Journal Article

Comparing Daily Drivers of Problem Drinking Among Older and Younger Adults: An Electronic Daily Diary Study Using Smartphones

Journal Article


By 2030, numbers and proportions of older adults with substance-use problems are expected to increase. While risk factors for problem drinking in late life have been identified, it remains unknown whether these factors drive daily drinking among older problem drinkers. This study examined the daily drivers of drinking among problem drinkers, moderated by age, utilizing ecological momentary assessment (EMA).

Participants (N=139), ages 20–73, received daily EMA online surveys completed via a smartphone prior to initiation of treatment. Multilevel modeling tested the moderating impact of age on within- and between-person relationships between drinking and focal predictors (mood, loneliness, boredom, stress, poor sleep, social factors, alcohol salience, commitment and confidence not to drink heavily).

Older adults reported greater alcohol consumption when daily boredom levels were higher. Heavier drinking among younger adults was associated with poorer sleep quality. Greater daily confidence, daily commitment and daily alcohol salience did not impact drinking to the same extent for older adults as for younger adults. Greater person-level commitment predicted reduced drinking equivalently across age, but low person-level commitment predicted greater drinking among older adults compared to their younger counterparts.

Older adults may have unique daily drivers of drinking that are not fully realized in current research and intervention efforts. Addressing the growing substance-use treatment needs among this population will require identifying the unique drivers of drinking among older adults, such as boredom, when compared to younger adults.

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2018 Feb 1. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2017.11.012.