More than 50 per cent of over 50s are drinking at levels that ‘could cause health problems now or in the future’, according to research commissioned by With You (We Are With You), while almost a quarter are classed as ‘high risk or possibly dependent’.
The findings have been released as the charity launches a free and confidential helpline for anyone over 50 who may be worried about their drinking. Using a validated screening tool, the survey of 1,150 people also found that more than 4m over 50s are binge drinking at least once a week during lockdown. Almost 2m stated that lockdown had led to them drinking earlier in the day, while more than 5m said that restrictions had led to them drinking alone.
People aged over 55 are already the group most likely to drink at hazardous levels, the charity points out, with consumption levels increasing before the lockdown. More than 1.3m over 50s say the second lockdown will lead to them drinking ‘even more’, however. As well as the effects of the lockdown on drinking habits and mental health, the research also reveals its significant impact on families, with one in three people whose parents are over 50 worried about the drinking habits of at least one parent since March. However, more than a quarter of over 50s said they wouldn’t consider asking anyone for help with their drinking.
‘We know that life changes such as bereavement, retirement and a lack of purpose have led to older adults drinking more in recent years while younger generations are drinking less,’ said head of the Drink Wise, Age Well programme at With You, Julie Breslin. ‘Nearly 80 per cent of over 50s we work with drink at home alone, hidden from view. It’s clear from these findings that the necessary coronavirus restrictions have exacerbated these issues whilst having a big impact on older adults’ mental health. Many older adults are unable to see their loved ones or friends and are drinking more as a way to cope with increased loneliness, isolation and anxiety. As people age their bodies find it harder to process alcohol, so the number of people over 50 who are binge drinking at the current time is really alarming. The impact of this will ripple through families as well as support services and the NHS.’
While only one in five dependent drinkers overall access support, older people frequently face additional barriers to seeking help, she added. ‘Our work shows over 50s are most likely to reach out to a service that’s specifically aimed at them.’
The helpline is available seven days a week on 0808 8010750. More information at www.wearewithyou.org.uk
More on alcohol awareness initiatives in the December/January issue of DDN.