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Adults drink less alcohol as they age Saturday,August 9th 2008

American adults aren't drinking as much alcohol as they used to, and by the time they reach their 80s, more than 40 percent of men and 60 percent of women say they don't drink at all, according to the first analysis of adults' drinking habits over several decades.

Men and women also appear to be drinking more wine and less beer as they get older.

The study, published in the August issue of the American Journal of Medicine, is based on survey responses from more than 8,000 participants in the Framingham Heart Study. Residents of Framingham, Mass., a mostly white, middle-class community, and their children were interviewed about their drinking habits every two to four years between 1948 and 2003.

Researchers from Boston University Medical Center found that adults drank less alcohol as they aged. And each generation drank less than their parents' generation.

For instance, middle-age people in the 1950s and 1960s drank about one-third more than people of the same age in the 1970s.

The study's authors say they aren't sure why alcohol consumption declines with age.

"The level of education improved throughout the study, and more-educated people tend to drink less, so this may be one reason," said Dr. R. Curtis Ellison, with the Boston University School of Medicine.

Jefferson Park resident George Scott, who's 55, said there's also "more of a social stigma attached" to excessive drinking than there was in previous generations.

And drunken driving enforcement is tougher, too, said 46-year-old Tom Hamming.

"When we were in our teens and we got caught doing that, you'd get a slap on the wrist," Hamming said. "Now if you get caught doing that, you're gone."

Hamming's wife, Therese, added that people are more aware of the health hazards associated with drinking and smoking.

While alcohol abuse can cause permanent damage to vital organs, drinking in moderation has been linked to lower heart disease risk.

Federal health officials define moderate drinking as having less than 24 grams of alcohol, or the equivalent of two drinks, per day for men and 12 grams for women.

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