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

Posted 24.01.2018

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 at a conference about substance misuse in the over 50s 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 www.drinkwiseagewell.org.uk 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 Omagh.

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

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