Stigma and shame stopping over 50s drinkers seeking help

The biggest ever survey of its kind has been conducted by researchers at the University of Bedfordshire into the drinking habits of the over 50s.

The study for the Drink Wise, Age Well programme has revealed a group whose attitudes towards alcohol and ageing is leaving them at increased risk of harm from alcohol.

Attitudes held and experienced by older drinkers may stop them for asking for help in reducing their alcohol use.

Respondents who drank more than they used to, gave age-related reasons for doing so.

Furthermore over three-quarters (83%) of those surveyed who were at increasing risk from alcohol use had never been asked about their drinking by someone who might be able to help.

Risks associated with alcohol include depression, poor sleep, memory problems, and trouble with relationships as well as more serious illnesses such as cancer or liver disease.

The biggest-ever study of its kind into drinking behaviours among the over 50s surveyed over 16,700 people from 10 areas across the UK. Categories of risk were defined using the international recognised AUDIT screening tool.

Key findings were:

  • Over half of respondents aged over 65 believe that people with an alcohol problem have themselves to blame. Nearly a quarter think they should feel ashamed.  
  • The five most frequently reported reasons for those who drink more now than in the past are age-related. These include retirement, bereavement, loss of sense of purpose, fewer opportunities to socialise and finances.
  • Around 4 in 5 of those who are at increasing risk of harm from alcohol said that on no occasion had relatives, friends, doctors or other health workers been concerned about their drinking or suggested they cut down.
  • 1 in 4 said they would not tell anyone if they needed help.

The study funded by the Big Lottery was led by the Substance Misuse and Ageing Research Team (SMART) at the University.

Dr Sarah Wadd, Director of SMART said: “The findings of this study are remarkable because they reveal that many over 50’s believe that people with alcohol problems are to blame or should feel ashamed . 

“This is important because it means that they may be less likely to seek advice or help for their drinking. In fact 1 in 4 of those who took part in the study said that they wouldn’t tell anyone if they had an alcohol problem.  It is also telling that most people who increase their drinking in later life do so in response to stresses and life changes associated with ageing. 

“Drink Wise, Age Well will tackle stigma and aim to smooth the transition into later life so that people don’t turn to alcohol to help them cope.”

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