Baby boomer drinkers 'causing concern'
23rd August 2017 – A rise in risky drinking levels among the over-50s is endangering their health and threatening to pile more pressure on the NHS, experts are warning.
Hazardous drinking is on the wane in the UK but an editorial in The British Medical Journal (BMJ) says people in this age group – commonly called 'baby boomers' – are bucking the trend.
The assessment also warns of "a strong upward trend for episodic heavy drinking" in this age group.
Alcohol and drugs
Although alcohol is the most common substance being misused, baby boomers are also more likely to take illegal drugs, particularly cannabis, than younger people, say researchers at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and Flinders University in Australia.
They add that in Australia, the largest recent increase in drug misuse has been seen among the over-60s, with people in this age group mainly misusing prescription medication.
A particular concern is a rise in the number of women drinking to hazardous levels after retirement, death of a partner, a change in their home situation and isolation from family and friends, they say.
"Alcohol misuse in the older population may increase further as baby boomers get older because of their more liberal views towards, and higher use of, alcohol," write the researchers, who warn: "A lack of sound alcohol screening to detect risky drinking may result in a greater need for treatment, longer duration of treatment, heavier use of ambulance services, and higher rates of hospital admission."
The editorial is written by Dr Rahul Rao, a consultant old age psychiatrist in London and Ann Roche, an addiction specialist from Adelaide, Australia.
They say that treatment programmes for baby boomers need to be adapted for their age group. However, they acknowledge that clinicians will need better knowledge and skills in assessing and treating older people at risk.
Responding to the editorial, Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, comments in a statement: "The over 50s have seen a time when alcohol has become increasingly affordable and have been bombarded with sophisticated alcohol marketing messages telling them they can't live a fulfilling life unless alcohol is at the centre of it.
"What they haven’t been told is that alcohol is linked to over 200 types of illness and injury, including 7 types of cancer."
Professor Gilmore adds: "If we are to turn the tide of alcohol harm we need measures which tackle the affordability, availability and promotion of alcohol, starting with the introduction of a minimum unit price which would reduce rates of death, illness and hospital admission numbers caused by alcohol."
Current alcohol guidelines say that men and women should not regularly drink more than 14 units of alcohol each week, the equivalent of 6 glasses (175ml) of wine or 6 pints of 4% lager or beer.