Frequent drinking becomes more common in middle to old age, peaking at 25 years, a new UK study has found.
Teenagers favour bouts of irregular heavy drinking episodes, only drinking once or twice a week, but as we grow older we shift into a regular drinking pattern, researchers said.
A substantial proportion of older men, drink daily or most days of the week, while a majority of women tend to drink monthly or on special occasions, they said.
“Understanding how drinking behaviour fluctuates throughout life is important to identify high risk groups and trends over time,” lead author Dr Annie Britton from the University College, London (UCL) said.
This is the first attempt to harmonise data on drinking behaviour from a wide range of population groups over their lifespan with repeated individual measures of consumption.
The findings show how drinking behaviour changes over our lifetimes, from adolescence through to old age, and could be used to design public health initiatives and sensible drinking advice.
The researchers looked at both the average amount of alcohol consumed per week and the frequency of drinking.
The findings were based on over 174,000 alcohol observations collected over a 34 year period, spanning from 1979 to 2013, from participants born in different eras.
Drinking patterns change more for men than for women, but both follow a similar pattern, a rapid increase in alcohol intake during adolescence leading to a peak in early adulthood, followed by a plateau in mid-life, and then a decline into older ages.
For men, mean consumption of alcohol rose sharply during adolescence, peaked at around 25 years at 20 units (160g) per week, roughly the equivalent of drinking 10 pints of beer.
This declined and plateaued during mid-life, before dropping to 5-10 units, approximately 3-5 pints of beer per week, from around 60 years.
Women followed a similar pattern, but reached a lower peak of around 7-8 units per week, around 4 pints of beer.
The research was published in the journal BMC Medicine.