Press release – 1/5/18

New e-learning module will help people working with, or supporting over 50s
to recognise & respond to problem drinking

A new online, interactive training module has been launched to help people who work with, or support older adults to recognise if they are being adversely affected by alcohol and respond in a way that is supportive and non-judgemental.

The module, which has been developed by Drink Wise, Age Well – a National Lottery funded programme that helps people make healthier choices about alcohol as they age – is available at and takes no more than two hours to complete, putting it within reach of many practitioners and frontline staff such as social workers, housing officers and HR professionals, as well as carers and family members.

The UK is currently experiencing a generational shift in alcohol use. Harmful drinking is declining in every other age group except the over 50s.

The reasons for this are complex, but an ageing population having grown up in a culture of drinking, or using alcohol to cope with later life transitions is part of it.

A 1major study for Drink Wise, Age Well has shown that approximately one in three older adults with an alcohol problem first develop it later in life with 40% saying it’s due to retirement and 26% citing bereavement. A further 20% say they are drinking more now than in the past due to loss of sense of purpose.

A more recent 2study showed that health practitioners were reluctant to intervene and help older drinkers because older adults were “too old to change” or simply because they didn’t want to deny them a pleasure they had grown used to.

The number of people at risk from poor physical and mental health in later life due to their drinking means this position cannot continue.

Drink Wise, Age Well has been at the forefront of calls for better training to help health professionals, practitioners and frontline staff to provide age-appropriate support to the over 50s. As Julie Breslin, head of the programme, explains:

“In the UK, more than four and a half million people aged 50 plus are thought to be at risk from their drinking. Each and every one of these people are individuals with family, friends and colleagues who can also be affected by a loved one’s drinking.

“We firmly believe that equipping people who come into contact with older adults to recognise and respond to harmful drinking can save so many more people from poor physical and mental health in later life than we could ever achieve on our own.

“We invite health professionals, practitioners, carers, frontline staff, volunteers and many more to take this course and be ready to make a difference to the lives of over 50s living in their communities.”


Press release – 24/1/18

New online film looks at life transitions that can lead to harmful drinking – to tackle stigma around older drinkers 

The number of people in the UK aged 50 plus experiencing alcohol related harm is increasing1.

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 at a conference about substance misuse in the over 50s2 looks at the main 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 a little more than we should.

The film being launched by Drink Wise, Age Well – a National Lottery funded 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 and over 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.”

The thought-provoking film shot in the style of a nature documentary can be seen at where there is plenty of help and advice including how to raise the subject of alcohol sensitively with a loved one. From 10am to 4pm and 6pm to 9pm, Monday to Friday plus 11-5 on Saturdays and Sundays friends, family and drinkers themselves can also engage in live chat.

Face-to-face support and group activities are available in the five areas where Drink Wise, Age Well operates: Glasgow, Sheffield, Devon, Cwm Taf University Health Board area in Wales and the Western Trust area in Northern Ireland, covering the Foyle area, Fermanagh and Tyrone.

For further information or to arrange interviews contact Nancy McLardie. Media & Communications Manager, Drink Wise, Age Well, tel: 07583 133294; email:



Press release – 20/11/17

Widespread ageism in alcohol treatment preventing UK over 50s getting help

  • 1Three out of four residential rehab services in England exclude older people
  • “Older adults with alcohol problems among most vulnerable in society”  
  • 2ONS figures show 45% rise in alcohol-specific deaths in UK 50+ since 2001

A new report being launched at the House of Lords on November 21 has found that ageism and age discrimination in alcohol policy, practice and research is denying older people the treatment they need to recover from harmful drinking.

The report for 3Drink Wise, Age Well asserts that some policies and practices are actually in breach of Equality and Human Rights legislation and calls on UK governments to develop alcohol strategies that recognise that older adults’ needs may be different to those of younger people.

4Higher risk drinking is declining in the UK except among people who are age 50 and over and with an ageing population the trend is of major concern, not least to the World Health Organisation (WHO) which has set a target of at least 10% relative reduction in harmful use of alcohol by 2025.

Recent ONS figures further underline the urgency of the situation.ONS Alcohol-specific deaths in the UK: registered in 2016’ show a 45% increase in alcohol-specific deaths in the over 50s in the past 15 years (2001 – 2016).

The new report, however, states that ““Ageist policies can be identified easily and abolished in a relatively short period… with very little impact on resources”.

‘Calling Time – Addressing ageism and age discrimination in alcohol policy, practice and research’ was authored by the Substance Misuse and Ageing Research Team at the University of Bedfordshire, Addaction and the International Longevity Centre-UK (ILC-UK) based on extensive review of UK strategies, policies and legislation, published literature and data on clinical trials, as well as a polling of professional opinion and focus groups with problematic drinkers.

Its main findings include:

  • Practitioners discriminating against older adults including managing issues relating to alcohol use (e.g. vitamin injections) rather than referring them for alcohol treatment and young adults being prioritised over older people;
  • Some of the reasons given are perceptions that older people are too old to change and that it’s not worth intervening because of life expectancy. There is also a sense that the care needs of older people are too complex for treatment;
  • A 1study for Alcohol Research UK featured in the report found that “three out of four residential alcohol rehab services in England exclude older people based on arbitrary age limit”;
  • The Equality Act 2010 states that “services must provide equal services regardless of age or disability”. It is therefore unlawful for services “to provide inferior services, or refuse to provide services because of a person’s age, unless there is a good or sufficient reason”;
  • Adults over the age of 65 are excluded from 46% of clinical trials for alcohol treatment/interventions.

Writing in the report foreword Baroness Hayter who is a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Alcohol Harm said, “Contrary to popular belief, harmful drinking is not the preserve of the young. In fact, many young people have followed advice and favour the gym or sports field over the pub and have been brought up never to drink and drive. Indeed, the only age group in the UK where drinking has increased  is the 65-74 year-old. So our consideration – and prevention – of problem drinking has to turn to the retired, or those who’ll approach it over the coming years.

“Drink Wise Age Well has drawn up guidance and recommendations for a swathe of organisations and professions, providing a vital tool in promoting health, happiness and a productive retirement for a growing generation.”


Key recommendations include:


  • Remove arbitrary age limits for alcohol services;
  • UK governments should develop alcohol strategies which incorporate age as a cross-cutting theme and explicitly recognise that older adults’ needs may be different from those of younger adults;
  • Following the example of the Welsh Government, convene an advisory panel to develop substance misuse guidance focused specifically on older adults;
  • Inform alcohol services of their legal obligation to provide equitable care and take action if services are consistently discriminating against older adults;
  • Ensure decisions on whether or not to refer someone to rehab is made on ability to benefit. Age alone should not be a barrier to referral;
  • Ensure older adults are included in clinical trials and research studies unless there is good justification for not doing so.

Julie Breslin, Head of Drink Wise, Age Well said, “Changing lifestyles and the older demographic means for the first time in recent history older people in the UK drink more and are more likely to exceed recommended guidelines than other age groups, but help and support has not yet caught up. Older people are being written off – sometimes unlawfully – and we believe this report has the potential to change that.”



Supporting quotes 

Caroline Phipps, Chief Executive of Drugaid said: “I am delighted that Wales has been recognised as leading the way in the UK in addressing the needs of older adults in our alcohol strategies and policies. But there is still a long way to go and this report provides a road map to fairer treatment for older people who have alcohol problems.”

Thelma Abernethy, Director Addiction NI said: “The most noticeable increase in alcohol consumption in recent years in NI has been among those aged 60-75, this is at a time in life of potential increased health issues, medication and our body processing alcohol in a different way to when they were younger.  There is an important piece of work to be done in educating this age group of the impact of alcohol as they age, so that they can make informed choice. Alcohol awareness is everyone’s business and we need to increase knowledge and upskill people working in a paid or voluntary capacity with the over 50s about the true impact of alcohol as they age, so that they can start to have those earlier conversations with the over 50s to help them make informed choice about their usage.”

Dr Richard Piper, CEO of Alcohol Research UK and Alcohol Concern, said: “Harmful drinking among the over 50s is on the rise and the way we tackle it requires an urgent response. This report, together with our research report on age discrimination within residential rehabilitation services, shows very clearly that concerted action is needed to ensure that those drinking at harmful levels can access the support they need. We urge policy-makers and practitioners to implement the recommendations in these reports fully and without delay to save lives and to improve outcomes for drinkers and their families.”