Alcohol use among Wisconsin senior citizens on the rise

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- More senior citizens in the state are drinking unsafely, that's according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

Eau Claire County ranks as one of the worst counties across Wisconsin for binge drinking, and Wednesday, the Wisconsin DHS is reporting more people 65 and older are binge drinking or drinking heavily.

Eau Claire City-County Health Department Director Lieske Giese says when we talk about binge drinking in Eau Claire, we tend to talk about young people, especially our college student population. But more than a quarter or our population drinks unsafely and that includes the elderly or people over 65-years-old.

Many people say drinking in Wisconsin is all just a part of the culture.

“It’s comforting; it’s relaxing,” said 74-year-old Jimmy Griese. Griese says it's all about the social appeal.

“My friends all drink; there's one there.” Griese said pointing across the bar.

But the Wisconsin DHS says alcohol use among seniors in the state is on the rise, nearly doubling in the last ten years.

“It’s definitely concerning when we see a trend line like that,” Giese said. “That's almost 1 in 10 that is drinking unsafely and that's a large number in a growing population; and we know those 65 and older is a larger group in our community.”

The state report says the alcohol consumption rate per person in Wisconsin is 1.3 times the national rate; and it doesn't look better in Eau Claire County. Giese says the county is currently ranked at the bottom of the counties across Wisconsin for binge drinking and long-term data has not shown improvement in the area.

Currently, nine percent of binge drinking comes from senior citizens drinking four or more drinks an hour for women and five more drinks an hour for men.

“About 27 percent of general adult population is binge drinking, so frankly, it’s not a surprise that 9 percent of our older population is, but it’s something we should care about,” she added.

Giese says the misuse of alcohol is not only something individuals should be concerned about for health risks, but it’s something taxpayers should be concerned about too.

In Eau Claire County, the excessive use of alcohol costs more than $160 million.

“That’s because of medical care, but also because of lost work time and lost economic benefit because people can't function the way they should,” Giese said.

April is alcohol awareness month and the health department says one of the messages to pay attention to is healthy drinking, like counting your drinks so you can draw the line between safe drinking and excessive.

Alcohol use among Wisconsin senior citizens is on the rise.

The state Department of Health Services reported Wednesday that annual rates of alcohol use, binge drinking and heavy drinking among people age 65 or older was higher as measured in 2014 than the previous year.

The per capita alcohol consumption rate in Wisconsin is 1.3 times the national rate.

The state report also finds that 56 percent of people over age 65 had at least one alcoholic drink in the past 30 days. Nine percent reported binge drinking. That is four or more drinks in about two hours for women about five or more drinks for men.

And 6 percent reported heavy drinking. That is eight or more drinks per week for women and 15 or more drinks for men.

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