And one in five of them, who are taking tablets to prevent heart attacks and strokes, and to curb the development of diabetes, admit to drinking heavily while taking the drug.
A further 16% of people in this age group combine heavy drinking with psychiatric medication.
The study from the Royal College of Surgeon’s School of Pharmacy shows that 72% of people over the age of 60 are prescribed tablets that interact harmfully with alcohol, and 60% of these people report drinking while taking these drugs.
But well-educated men, aged 60-65 and who live in towns and cities and who have a history of smoking are the most likely to drink while on medication that shouldn’t be mixed with alcohol.
Mixing alcohol with these medications can damage the effectiveness of the drug, cause liver damage, gastrointestinal inflammation and bleeding and make people sleepy.
Speaking on the findings, Dr Gráinne Cousins, lecturer in RCSI’s School of Pharmacy, said the dangers of drinking heavily while taking anti-depressants and anti-psychotic medications could not be disregarded.
“The use of psychotropic drugs with heavy alcohol consumption is of particular concern to us as they may cause the most dangerous alcohol-related adverse drug reactions. For example, consumption of alcohol increases the sedative effects of anti-depressants, which can result in outcomes such as falls, motor vehicle accidents and even death.”
She added the dangers of mixing prescribed drugs with alcohol was exacerbated as people grew older.
“Older adults are susceptible to adverse effects from the simultaneous use of prescription medications and alcohol, in part because of changes in absorption, distribution and metabolism of alcohol and other medication with age,” she said.
Doctors are warning the proportion of older adults at risk of alcohol-related adverse drug events will increase as the population greys.
The research, based on data from The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), was carried out in conjunction with the Health Research Board (HRB) Centre for Primary Care Research and Trinity College Dublin and was published in the journal BMC Geriatrics.