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Over 50? Drink Wise

The number of people in the UK aged 50 plus experiencing alcohol related harm is increasing.


The reasons for this are complex, but one of the main barriers to older adults getting help is the stigma around alcohol use – particularly with this age group.


A short film being launched today (23 January 2018) at a conference about substance misuse in the over 50s looks at some of the key reasons older people drink, in a bid to generate better understanding of the tough later life realities that could lead any one of us to drink more than we should.       


The film being launched by Drink Wise, Age Well – a programme aimed at helping the over 50s make healthier choices about alcohol – is centred on four characters going through key life transitions that have triggered harmful drinking. 



















A major study for Drink Wise, Age Well when it was first established revealed that of those aged 50 plus who said they were drinking more now than in the past, retirement (40%); bereavement (26%) and loss of sense of purpose (20%) were the main reasons given.


In the film, middle-aged couple Derek and Jackie are coming to terms with life after their children have left home, while Kevin has recently retired from running his own small business and grandmother, Liz, is having the pain of losing her husband compounded by family conflict arising from her main coping mechanism – frequent drinking.


Endless days stretching out ahead with no commitments might seem like heaven to many people. But for some older adults a lack of structure in their day – whether due to retirement, bereavement or “empty-nest” - can cause problem drinking, which can lead to serious health conditions and premature death.   


The Drink Wise, Age Well study, which surveyed the opinion of 16,700 people aged 50 plus also revealed:


  • In the UK, one in five people aged 50 plus who drink do so at a level that increases their risk of harm;

  • 80% of respondents at increased risk from their drinking had never been asked about their alcohol use by family, friends, or a health professional.     


Julie Breslin, Head of the Drink Wise, Age Well programme said,


“Significant cultural changes and an ageing population means harmful drinking in the over 50s is showing up in national statistics as never before.


“Increasing alcohol consumption in our ageing population has been well documented, but the reasons behind it less so. Approximately one in three older adults with an alcohol problem first develop it later in life, often for changes we will all go through. Retirement and bereavement can leave older adults feeling isolated and drinking at home to cope.

“We hope this film will highlight to friends, families, peers and partners of older adults who drink problematically that there are sometimes understandable reasons why they do so. It might even make people stop and think that older relatives could be drinking, but keeping it hidden to avoid the shame.


“There is particularly strong stigma around drinking later in life, preventing people from getting the help they need to live healthier lives.”    



1. The United Kingdom is currently experiencing a generational shift in terms of alcohol use.  Harmful use of alcohol is declining across the whole population but increasing among older adults. Today, for the first time in recent history, drinkers aged 55-64 in England and Scotland drink more and are more likely to exceed the recommended weekly guidelines than any other age group http://www.content.digital.nhs.uk/catalogue/PUB22616  


In England, those aged 65-74 are the only age group where daily alcohol consumption is increasing https://digital.nhs.uk/catalogue/PUB23940  

In Scotland, harmful, hazardous and binge drinking is increasing amongst those aged 65-74 but decreasing in other age groups http://www.gov.scot/Topics/Statistics/Browse/Health/scottish-health-survey/Publications/TrendTables15

In Wales, those aged 65 and over are the only age group where drinking above the daily guidelines is increasing http://gov.wales/statistics-and-research/welsh-health-survey/?tab=previous&lang=en

In Northern Ireland, the most noticeable increases in alcohol consumption in recent years have been amongst those aged 60-75 https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/publications/adult-drinking-patterns-northernireland-


The Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines recommend that to keep health risks to a low level, adults should limit their intake of alcohol to no more than 14 units per week, spread evenly over three days or more.   


The Drink Wise seven year programme aims to:     


  • Raise awareness of alcohol misuse among people aged 50 and over; combat stigma and influence community norms about the use of alcohol;

  • Increase individual and community resilience to alcohol problems and reduce harmful drinking in the over 50s;

  • Increase the extent to which service providers and employers who have regular contact with people over 50 are able to recognise and respond to risky drinking;

  • Share a body of evidence on how to prevent alcohol misuse in the over 50s, which will inform future prevention work in the UK and internationally.