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Psychotropic drug use and alcohol consumption among older adults in Germany: results of the German Health Interview and Examination Survey for Adults 2008–2011
  1. Yong Du,
  2. Ingrid-Katharina Wolf,
  3. Hildtraud Knopf
  1. Department of Epidemiology and Health Monitoring, Robert Koch Institute, Berlin, Germany
  2. YD and I-KW contributed equally
  1. Correspondence to Yong Du; duy{at}


Objectives The use and combined use of psychotropic drugs and alcohol among older adults is a growing public health concern and should be constantly monitored. Relevant studies are scarce in Germany. Using data of the most recent national health survey, we analyse prevalence and correlates of psychotropic drug and alcohol use among this population.

Methods Study participants were people aged 60–79 years (N=2508) of the German Health Interview and Examination Survey for Adults 2008–2011. Medicines used during the last 7 days were documented. Psychotropic drugs were defined as medicines acting on the nervous system (ATC code N00) excluding anaesthetics (N01), analgesics/antipyretics (N02B), but including opiate codeines used as antitussives (R05D). Alcohol consumption in the preceding 12 months was measured by frequency (drinking any alcohol-containing beverages at least once a week/a day) and quantity (alcohol consumed in grams/day; cut-offs: 10/20 g/day for women/men defining moderate and risky drinking). SPSS complex sample module was used for analysis.

Results 21.4% of study participants use psychotropic medications, 66.9% consume alcohol moderately and 17.0% riskily, 51.0% drink alcohol at least once a week and 18.4% daily, 2.8% use psychotropic drugs combined with daily alcohol drinking. Among psychotropic drug users, 62.7% consume alcohol moderately, 14.2% riskily. The most frequently used psychotropic medications are antidepressants (7.9%) and antidementia (4.2%). Factors associated with a higher rate of psychotropic drug use are female sex, worse health status, certified disability and polypharmacy. Risky alcohol consumption is positively associated with male sex, smoking, upper social class, better health status, having no disability and not living alone.

Conclusions Despite the high risk of synergetic effects of psychotropic drugs and alcohol, a substantial part of older psychotropic drug users consume alcohol riskily and daily. Health professionals should talk about the additional health risks of alcohol consumption when prescribing psychotropic drugs to older adults.

  • psychotropic drugs
  • alcohol
  • national health survey
  • older adults
  • Germany

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  • Contributors YD helped conceptualise the study, conducted the statistical analyses, interpreted the results, contributed to literature review and wrote the manuscript. I-KW helped conceptualise the study, provided the literature review, assisted in interpreting results and writing the manuscript. HK generated the original idea, coordinated, conceptualised and conducted the project, provided specific knowledge and reviewed the manuscript. HK is the guarantor who takes the responsibility for the study. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

  • Funding This work was supported by the Federal Ministry of Health and the Robert Koch Institute. The German Health Interview and Examination Survey for Adults 2008–2011 was funded by the Federal Ministry of Health.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval the Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin ethics committee.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement No additional data are available.

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