Alcohol Use Among New Brunswick Seniors

The province of New Brunswick (Department of Health and Wellness) has produced a 2002 report on the prevalence of substance use and gambling among older adults. You can find the 123 page report online or read some highlights below:

What Were They Interested In?

The purpose of the report was twofold:
To describe the extent of substance use (alcohol, tobacco, cannabis), general
mental health (including use of related prescription medication) and gambling
involvement among adults 55 years of age or older in New Brunswick,
To identify socio-demographic correlates or risk factors related to use and outcomes.

Who Did They Survey?

There is a lot of good information in this survey, but it has some significant drawbacks in terms of who they asked.

They sampled 1000 adults aged 55+ and conducted phone interviews with them. Actually they sampled 1345, but 345 older adults either refused or were not available.

The majority of those interviewed (64.8%) were women. This is quite a bit higher than the actual percentage of older women in the province. For example, of the 100,000 seniors (65+) in the province of New Brunswick, 58% are women, and among the 55-64 year olds in the province, it is close to a 50-50 split for women and men.

In other words, this survey over-sampled older women and that likely affects some of the findings in areas such as percentage of drinkers. Also in New Brunswick, older women's incomes are only 61% of the men's; and income and likelihood of drinking are very closely tied.


General Findings

Many of the findings are similar to what we tend to see in other jurisdictions, such as drinking declining with age; greater percentage of men drinkers; much greater likelihood of drinking as income and education increase. There are some differences.

Here is an overview.

Alcohol Prevalence

Just over half of all New Brunswick seniors (51.8%) aged 55+ surveyed here consumed alcohol within the past 12 months. One-quarter (24.8%) of NB seniors report that they have never had an alcoholic beverage. A similar proportion (23.4%) have not consumed any alcohol in the last year, but have at some point in the past.

In comparison, according to 1998-9 national figures provided by Statistics Canada, 74% of people across Canada aged 55-64 drank, either occasionally or regularly (80% for men, and 69% for women). This percentage of occasional and regular drinkers dips among people aged 65-74 to 67%, with more men than women drinkers (72% and 62% respectively).

The percentage of life long abstainers in the New Brunswick survey is quite a bit higher in this sample compared to the national average. Nationally, the % of abstainers is

--5% for men and 11%% for women aged 55-64
-6% for men and 18% for women aged 65-74
--11% for men and 26% for women aged 75+

What Else Did the New Brunswick Survey Find?

1. Gender, age, marital status, education, income and health region were significantly related to past year use of alcohol, after adjusting for other demographic characteristics. The odds of drinking among male seniors were 2.6 times higher than female seniors (65.8% versus 43.8%).

2. Prevalence of drinking tended to decline with age, with the majority (62.6%) of adults aged 55-64 having consumed alcohol during the past year as compared to only 36.3% of those over 75 years of age.

3. Seniors who were currently married are more inclined to have drank than those who were not living with a spouse or partner, although those who were previously married are almost 2 times more likely (1.75) than seniors who never married to have used alcohol in the past year.

4. Alcohol use in the last year increases significantly with level of education. Seniors with University level education were most inclined to drink alcohol (75.9%), about three times more likely than those with high school education or less (44.7%).

5. The rate of drinking also increases with household income level, with incomes of $25,000 or greater associated with approximately twice the odds of having
consumed alcohol in the previous 12 months ($25K-$50K: 2.5; $50K+: 1.8).
Seniors with a household income of less than $25,000 per year were least inclined to drink (41.0%), particularly compared to those in households earning $25,000 to $50,000 per year (70.8%).

Daily Drinking among Older Adults in New Brunswick

Approximately 5.4% of seniors (with a 4% to 7% range depending on age and sex) reported daily alcohol consumption in the last year. The regular drinkers account for 10% of those who had any alcohol in the 12 months before the survey.

In comparison, this percentage of daily drinkers is one half of the percentage found in Ontario for seniors, where 10.9% of drinkers drank daily.

Gender and education affected the likelihood of older adults in New Brunswick drinking daily. The odds of daily drinking among male seniors were 2.8 times higher than female seniors (8.9% versus 3.4%). The prevalence of daily drinking tends to increase with education level (University educated seniors are 2.6 times more likely to drink alcohol daily compared to those with high school or less).

Estimated Number of Drinks Consumed Among Past Year Drinkers

On average, seniors in New Brunswick consumed 1.4 alcoholic beverages per week during the last 12 months. Among drinkers, 2.7 beverages per week were consumed on average. The Ontario figure was 3.73 drinks on average.

-- Men over 54 years of age consumed three times as many drinks per week, on average, than women over 54 (2.4 versus 0.8).
-- The average number of drinks consumed declined with age. Seniors over 74 years drank only half as many alcoholic beverages, on average, than those aged 55 to 64 years (0.9 versus 1.7).
-- Seniors with university level education tended to consume the highest volume per week than those in the lower education categories (2.6 drinks versus 1.2 to 1.3).
-- The average volume of alcohol consumed per week increased with income level.

--- Seniors in the highest income group (> $50K) drank, on average, 2.8 drinks per week, a level significantly higher than reported by seniors in lower income categories (1.7 and 1.1 drinks per week).

How Many  are Having Five Or More Drinks in a Single Sitting Weekly?

Consumption of 5 or more drinks in a single sitting, on a weekly or more frequent basis, is an indicator of regular heavy consumption of alcoholic beverages. Cumulative effects of this consistent heavy level of drinking are potentially detrimental.

Approximately 1.8% of New Brunswick seniors (range of 1.1% to 2.8%) reported drinking at least five drinks in a single sitting, on either a daily or weekly basis. The authors urge caution in the figures below because there is a lot of statistical variability. This is considerably lower than in Ontario, where 5.5% of the seniors drank at least five drinks in a single sitting.

-- Males over 55 years of age are more than eight times as likely than senior females to report drinking heavily on a regular basis (4.2% versus <1%).

-- Seniors in the youngest age category (55 to 64 years) appear to be more inclined to have regularly consumed 5 or more alcohol drinks in a single sitting than seniors over the age of 75 years (2.8% versus <1%).

--Prevalence of regular heavy alcohol use is highest among seniors with high school education level or lower (2.5%).

How Many  are Having Fifteen or More Drinks Per Week?

Consumption of 15 or more alcoholic beverages on a weekly basis is another indicator of the percentage of seniors who are drinking at a level that may be potentially harmful to their health.

The prevalence among New Brunswick seniors of drinking 15 or more alcoholic beverages per week during the last 12 months was approximately 1.4% (range of 0.8% to 2.4%). This meant that 1% to 2% of seniors in the province (or approximately 3% to 4% drinkers) were drinking at a rate that could compromise their health and well being. In comparison, in Ontario 2.6% of older adults were drinking 15+ drinks a week.

New Brunswick also found:

--A potentially harmful rate of weekly drinking tends to be more prevalent among senior males (2.9%) than females (<1%).
-- Seniors who have never been married are more likely to be drinking at this high level (4.1%) than those who are married/co-habitating (1.3%) or have been previously married (1.0%).

-- Seniors with university level education may be more inclined to drink 15+ alcoholic beverages per week than those with lower education levels.

-- The highest rate of heavy drinking is found for seniors in households with annual income levels exceeding $50,000 (3.4%), particularly compared to those in homes earning less than $25,000 per year (1.2%).

Study Limitations

This survey likely under-represents the extent of drinking among older adults in the province, in part because it significantly oversamples older women, who tend to much less likely to be drinkers. The AUDIT is not a good survey tool for measuring alcohol problems among older adults because the questions do not capture the kinds of problems that older adults are likely to experience.


2002 Seniors Survey Prevalence of Substance Use and Gambling Among New Brunswick Adults Aged 55+

Highlights: 2003 Report Card on the Status of Women in New Brunswick (New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women)


Statistics Canada :


Page last updated: July 20, 2003

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