Aug. 6, 2008 -- Americans may be drinking less alcohol, on average, than in the past -- and they're cutting back on beer and sipping more wine as they get older.
That finding comes from 50 years of drinking data reported by 8,600 white adults in Framingham, Mass., the home of a long-term health study.
Participants, born from 1900 to 1959, joined the study when they were at least 28 years old. Over the decades, they repeatedly answered questions about their lifestyle and health, including their alcohol use.
Men and women in each generation drank less as they got older. And each generation drank less than previous generations, with heavier drinking giving way to moderate drinking.
As participants got older, they drank less beer and more wine. For instance, men got at least half of their alcohol from beer until they hit their mid-30s, and then cut back on beer until it made up about a quarter of their alcohol intake in their mid-70s.
Women also cut back on beer and increased wine as they got older, though they never favored beer as much as men to begin with.
Why did average alcohol use drop from generation to generation? "I really don't know," researcher Yuqing Zhang, DSc, of Boston University School of Medicine, tells WebMD. Zhang explains that he and his colleagues "did not try to answer these questions" in this study.
The study also shows no drop in new cases of alcoholism and other alcohol use disorders among adults aged 40-79.
It's not clear if the results, published in The American Journal of Medicine, apply to all U.S. adults. In May, another team of researchers, using national data, reported that alcoholism appears to be on the rise in women born after 1953.