Is drink a problem for older people?

BBC’s Panorama recently suggested that drinking by the over 65s is becoming a problem.  But is it?  Age Scotland volunteer Pat Craig examines the issue.

It seems that while we over 65s are tutting at the antics of drunken young people littering city pavements every weekend, we are also getting quietly ‘smashed’ alone on cheap booze discreetly purchased in supermarkets. Joan Bakewell recently revealed on Panorama that we could be on the cusp of an epidemic of old age drinking.

Last year more 65+s were admitted to hospital for alcohol-related injuries and illnesses than those in the 16 to 24 age group and an estimated 1.4 million over 65s are believed to be drinking excessively. While this programme focused on those who had reacted to bereavement, redundancy, isolation, retirement or simply old age by drinking to excess, there was no indication as to whether they’d had a pre-disposition to alcohol throughout their lives.

‘Baby Boomers’ are the first generation where alcohol has been a backdrop to life. Who could imagine a ’dry’ wedding, christening, retirement or funeral. Are we incapable of maintaining our intake at acceptable levels? Surely, old age, even with its limitations, isn’t so terrible that we have to blank it out with booze.

Alcohol use, like that of all ‘drugs’, is one of choice. However, we’re given contradictory messages. Recently I read on the internet that red wine aids balance, not an easily made connection! We’re encouraged to use larger glasses for the ’bouquet’. Deals on multiple bottles are still available despite price rises. Confusion about what ‘units of alcohol’ actually means continues.

Bakewell claims to be haunted by the word units, seeing it as a conspiracy by younger people i.e. nurses, doctors, social workers etc., to make her mend her ways. Ironically, these are the very people who have to pick up the pieces – drunks, young or old, are rarely pleasant. Moderation is not newsworthy. A ‘straw poll’ among friends indicates that most are embracing moderation by choosing smaller glasses, buying only mini bottles of wine or cans of spirits, or non-alcoholic lager; most never drink alone and all give themselves a break. None is particularly abstemious.

These are my friends. What about yours? Drinking, like sex, is very personal and lends itself to untruths. Minimum pricing due in Scotland next April offers an opportunity to reshape our often dangerous liaison with alcohol. Whether it will or not remains to be seen.

2 thoughts on “Is drink a problem for older people?

  1. According to the 2011 Scottish Health Survey (published 25th September 2012) daily drinking showed variations with age. Mean units consumed decreased as age increased (from 5.9 in those aged 16-24 down to 2.9 in those aged 75 and above). This pattern was observed for both men and women. The proportion exceeding their daily limits was similar for those aged 16 to 54, and dropped quite sharply for each successive age group thereafter. For example, the proportion of men aged 16-54 that drank more than 8 units on their heaviest drinking day ranged from 28% to 32%, this then dropped to 20% at age 55-64, 12% at age 65-74, and to just 3% for men aged 75 and over. Is that because of good sense or decreasing tolerance?

  2. Pingback: Are pensioners drinking themselves to death? (Tomorrow’s fish and chip paper) | The Age Scotland Blog

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