• Aging;
  • drinking problems;
  • gender differences;
  • help-seeking;
  • life history


Aims  This study focused on changes in 10-year patterns of alcohol consumption among older women and men, late-life and life history predictors of drinking problems, and gender differences in these predictors.

Design, setting, participants  A sample of late-middle-aged community residents (N = 1291) who had consumed alcohol in the past year or shortly before was surveyed at baseline and 1 year, 4 years and 10 years later.

Measurements  At each contact point, participants completed an inventory that assessed their alcohol consumption, drinking problems and health-related and life context factors. Participants also provided information about their life history of drinking.

Results  Over the 10 years, the proportion of individuals who consumed alcohol declined. Among individuals who continued to drink, women and men showed comparable declines in alcohol consumption, minor concomitants of alcohol consumption and drinking problems. In addition to the amount of alcohol consumption, smoking, friends’ approval of drinking and avoidance coping consistently predicted late-life drinking problems. With respect to life history factors, heavy drinking, drinking problems and increased drinking in response to life events were related to a higher likelihood of late-life drinking problems; obtaining help from family members and friends and, among men, participation in Alcoholics Anonymous, were related to a lower likelihood of problems.

Conclusion  Older women and men show comparable declines in alcohol consumption and drinking problems. Specific late-life social context and coping variables, and life history indices, are risk factors for late-life drinking problems among both women and men.