White, middle-class & over 65? Britain’s ‘invisible addicts’ drink too much

© Eddie Keog
An alarming number of middle class people over the age of 65 are drinking “unsafe” amounts of alcohol and putting their health at risk, experts warn.

The research carried out by academics from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London found that one in five adults in Britain are exceeding recommended alcohol levels. 

The researchers used anonymous GP data from nearly 28,000 over 65’s living in London.

Some 9,248 were found to be frequent drinkers, while 21 percent consumed more than the recommended safe limits.

The national guideline advises that women drink no more than 14 units per week and men should only consume 21.

But the report’s findings show males consume 49 units a week while women drink 23.

Men also accounted for 65 percent of unsafe drinkers.

According to the survey, excessive drinking was more common among elderly, wealthy white males than those from other ethnic and social backgrounds.

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Based on our findings, the elderly who were most at risk were those from the white British population rather than from an ethnic minority, and were wealthier and better educated rather than those from a more deprived background,” the study’s author Dr Mark Ashworth told the BBC.

Very few GPs are switched on to the idea that their older patients could be drinking at these levels – we all look out for it in younger patients, but we are less attuned to it in the elderly.

Reducing alcohol misuse is important to prevent premature death and serious negative health effects, such as alcoholic liver disease, which are a big burden on our health system.

What is uncertain from this study is whether people are drinking alone, or with friends at home, or down the pub.”

The study’s findings highlight that GPs “need to be more aware of the risk of older people.”

Ashworth said excess drinking carries additional risks in the older population such as confusion and falls.

Alcohol Concern called for pricing per unit and said this would be the “most effective” policy change.

The charity’s chief Jackie Ballard told the Daily Mirror: “The single most effective policy change would be a minimum price for each unit of alcohol.

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These are people who, if they develop alcohol-related illnesses, tend to require the most complex and expensive health care due to the mental and physical problems caused by drinking too much,” she told the paper.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), older people are more likely to develop health problems from alcohol even if their drinking habits have not changed over time.

In 2011, experts from the Royal College of Psychiatrists said there was a growing problem with alcohol abuse among older people.

They branded over 65s society’s “invisible addicts” and urged them to drink a maximum of 1.5 units a day, equivalent to half a pint of beer.