Substance Misuse and Ageing Research Team

Convenor: Dr Sarah Wadd

Follow us on Twitter: @SMARTatUoB

Tilda Goldberg Centre - Adult-focussed Research - Substance Misuse and Ageing

Established in 2012, SMART is a collaborative working group consisting of researchers from a variety of disciplines including addictions, public health, social work and social care and importantly, people with personal experience of alcohol and drug problems. SMART is the UK’s only research group specialising in substance use and ageing

Making a difference is what drives us. Our mission is to improve the lives of people over the age of 50 who are experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, problems as a result of alcohol or drug use including addictive medicines.

We are passionate about working in equal partnership with the public. We have developed a complex ‘weave’ of public engagement throughout our work and ensure that our research is driven by the public’s needs. We test and evaluate innovative ways to engage the public and inform them about our research. This has included working with students to deliver a play to the public about the stigma experienced by people with alcohol problems, and producing animations based on our research findings.

Our recent animation presents some of the main findings from our survey of nearly 17,000 people aged 50+ on their use of alcohol as part of the Drink Wise Age Well programme:


Our four main areas of work

  • Increasing the profile of the issue - for example, our research has been cited by the Scottish Government to make a case that older people should be a priority group in terms of reducing alcohol harm and by the Royal College of Psychiatrists to highlight the scarcity of substance misuse services for older adults. It has contributed to a focus on alcohol use in older adults in other parts of the world. It has been cited by New Zealand’s Health Promotion Agency and the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction.

  • Changing professional practice – for example, our research was used to develop training for the Drink Wise, Age Well programme which has been delivered to more than a thousand professionals from 150 organisations across the UK. It has been used by Australia’s National Research Centre on Alcohol and Other Drugs Workforce Development and the American Society of Addiction Medicine’s Handbook of Addiction Medicine.

  • Educating the public – for example, drawing on our findings in relation to alcohol stigma, Drink Wise, Age Well developed a UK-wide social media campaign called Vintage Street targeting the general public. Half a million people watched the video on Facebook, a quarter of a million people saw the campaign on Twitter and there were more than 2,000 views on YouTube. 83% of people who saw the campaign on Facebook said they are more likely to believe that society should treat older people with alcohol problems with a tolerant attitude.

  • Ensuring that alcohol treatment meets the needs of older adults – for example, our research led to action to stop alcohol rehabs setting upper age limits which excluded older adults. Findings from our cognitive impairment study led to Drink Wise, Age Well introducing routine cognitive screening for older people in their alcohol services. The screening identified more than two hundred older adults with previously unidentified cognitive impairment.