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Age, Cohort and Period Effects on Alcohol Consumption and Problem Drinking: Findings from the Normative Aging Study

Michael R. Levenson, Carolyn M. Aldwin, Avron Spiro III

Objective: We examined whether alcohol consumption and problem drinking decreased with age or if the reported declines were actually cohort and/or period effects. Method: We utilized data from the Normative Aging Study, assessing 1,267 men three times over an 18-year period (1973, 1982, 1991). Men were divided into five 9-year birth cohorts; age ranged from 46 to 72. Results: Sequential analyses using repeated measures ANOVAs showed significant age, cohort and period effects. Although there was a tendency for alcohol consumption to decline with age, this was not true for all cohorts. Men born between 1910 and 1918 increased from an average of 350 to 440 drinks per year from their fifties to their sixties. The younger cohorts tended to report both more consumption and more problems. However, period had the most consistent effect in this study. There was an increase in problems and in consumption during the 1970s but a decrease in the 1980s, with the exception of the youngest cohort (1937-1945) who reported more problems in the 1991 assessment despite lower consumption. Conclusions: Age-related change in both consumption and problems varied depending upon which cohort or time period was assessed. Thus, drinking patterns are a complex amalgam of individual aging and societal change. (J. Stud. Alcohol 59: 712-722, 1998)