Older adults cut drinking days in half with Northern-Ireland based programme

Posted 16.04.2019

Older adults cut drinking by two thirds with Northern Ireland-based programme

People who took part in the Drink Wise, Age Well programme in the Western Trust area cut the average amount of alcohol they drink on a typical day from 21 units to 7.

At a follow up interview, six months after being discharged from the project, participants had maintained this reduction. Participants also reported reducing the number of drinking days per month between initial assessment and discharge from the programme, from 14 to 7.

The National Lottery Community funded programme was first established in 2015 in response to 1increasing alcohol harm in the over 50s,  with initial research showing that older adults were facing particular challenges when trying to get help for alcohol problems.

The new data also shows how many of the programme participants struggled with isolation and loneliness, with 68% of people surveyed drinking mainly at home alone. The most common reason older adults in the Western Trust area gave for increasing their drinking was bereavement followed by relationship problems. Some also said they had “always drunk this way”.

Adrian Loughrey, Locality Manager for Drink Wise, Age Well in the Western Trust area, said, “Our experience of delivering the programme over the past four years has shown that significant numbers of over 50s in Northern Ireland are drinking to harmful levels, but may be reluctant to get help due to stigma.

“We have been very successful in engaging with people through a range of health and well-being activities that help tackle loneliness and isolation, and have worked hard to earn the trust of individuals and families in the Western Trust area to encourage them to come forward for one-to-one support.”

Drink Wise, Age Well is now into its final year of operation in Northern Ireland (until March 2020) but it is hoped that the most effective elements of the programme will carry on through being embedded in general alcohol services, or, where required, the development of age-specific services.

The programme has also provided clear testimony to community engagement, running a range of support groups and social activities for the over 50s. This includes the recent successful Health Festival in Omagh, which will be repeated in the Foyle area in September and a programme of social connectedness activities across the Western Trust area, which is running again now due to popular demand.

Adrian Loughrey added, “Alcohol use and harm is increasing in our older population and it is crucial that we have a targeted approach to this. Whilst ensuring that alcohol treatment and support is accessible to people of all ages, it is also important to explore the underlying reasons for drinking including isolation and life transitions. The holistic approach of our programme has allowed us to address the problem while working with people to build their own resilience and connections within their communities.”

For further information on Drink Wise, Age Well, visit www.drinkwiseagewell.org.uk

Case study

Roy Warke, 68, the Foyle area

Roy Warke is somewhat unusual in his role as a volunteer for Drink Wise, Age Well in the Western Trust area, in that he hasn’t drunk a drop of alcohol for 40 years.

But that doesn’t make his contribution any less important. As someone with a wealth of experience in running prevention campaigns and providing addiction counselling, Roy has a unique perspective on what’s available for over 50s with alcohol problems in Northern Ireland.

He says, “Drink Wise, Age Well has come along like a breath of fresh air, providing a safe space where people can talk about their drinking without fear of being judged.

“In Northern Ireland, you are taught to hide your problems. So, when someone does eventually open up about having an alcohol problem, they need help right then and there, not in eight weeks, which is about the average wait for an over 65 in the Provence.

 “For some reason health professionals tend to look down on volunteers, but Drink Wise, Age Well has shown that older adults with a lifetime of skills and experience, can step into the breach and provide valuable ‘first aid” for people in desperate need.”    

Most recently, Roy has been part of the Drink Wise, Age Well NI Charter for Change group, working to highlight the plight of older adults with alcohol problems and present some workable solutions.

He concludes, “I suffered a spell of deep depression and tried to hide it for so long. I want to help bring about change, so older people in Northern Ireland can be open about their drinking and get fast, fair, age-appropriate help.”