The study in question warns that harmful drinking is becoming a ‘middle-class phenomenon’, which could be a hidden problem in otherwise successful older people. Researchers have called for explicit, targeted guidelines on alcohol consumption for successful older people.
Those at increasing risk of harmful drinking were found to be men who drink between 22 and 50 units of alcohol a week, and women who drink between 15 and 35 units per week. At even higher risk are men consuming over 50 units a week and women consuming over 35.
The data was based on over 9,000 responses to the English Longitudinal Survey of Ageing (ELSA), which is a long-term study of a representative sample of over 50s living independently in England.
The respondents were asked about various lifestyle factors, including income, educational attainment, diet, smoking, levels of loneliness/depression, marital status and friendship networks.
Analysis of their responses found that the risk of harmful drinking peaked for men in their 60s before gradually diminishing, while in women the risk fell in tandem with age. Researchers say the patterns they found suggest that the current group of over 50s may well be carrying levels of higher alcohol consumption developed when they were younger into later life.
Professor Jose Iparraguirre, of Age UK, said: “We can sketch – at the risk of much simplification – the problem of harmful drinking among people aged 50 or over in England as a middle class phenomenon: people in better health, higher income, with higher educational attainment and socially more active are more likely to drink at harmful levels.”
He went on to explain that their findings suggest those who exhibit an affluent lifestyle and a ‘successful’ ageing process are at an increased risk of harmful drinking.