The elderly are society’s new booze baddies

Thanks to Laura at Club Soda for sending me the link to this news piece in The Spectator in February.  It discussed the fact that now that the young are turning tee-total, the best hope for the survival of heavy drinking lies with the old who have become society’s new booze baddies.

The gulf in understanding between the old and the young has widened with the news that the young are beginning to turn teetotal. If there was one thing that the old thought they knew about the young, it was that they drank too much. British youth led the world in its enthusiasm for alcohol. Our cities swarmed with loutish binge drinkers. Yet now, all of a sudden, we learn that abstinence is becoming fashionable. The number of people under 25 who don’t touch a drop has increased by 40 per cent in eight years. More than a quarter of people in this age group now don’t drink anything at all. What is going on?

The conditions for heavy drinking would seem to be perfect: there is economic hardship and a generally gloomy outlook on most fronts. It can seldom have been more tempting to seek oblivion in alcohol. Yet the financial crash of 2008 seems to have had the opposite effect. It is since then that the tide has turned. It is true that times are hard and drinking is much more expensive than it used to be, but cost has never deterred the determined drinker. Nor is it possible to believe that government health campaigns have had much effect; they have never impressed the young. It is true that Muslims and Sikhs tend not to drink, but there are still not enough of them in our midst to have much impact on the statistics. There must be different explanations.

It could be that other addictions have been replacing alcohol. There is little time for group bingeing if one is glued to one’s computer or smart phone, and the digital world has its own numbing effect. Could it be, on the contrary, that the young are imbued with a new energy, optimism and sense of purpose? It would be nice to think so, but this would be really surprising. I am lost in incomprehension. But I have found from my own experience that far more people of all ages now turn down a drink when they are offered one.

The best hope for the survival of heavy drinking now lies with the old. It is to them that the health experts have turned their attention. More and more elderly men and women are now drinking too much, they say, because they don’t know what else to do with their free time. Once they have mown the lawn, or whatever else retired people do to keep themselves busy, they take out the bottle (for most of them the computer is probably no substitute). I can believe this, though how the experts think they know how much old people drink is something of a mystery, since they also say that this is a ‘hidden’ problem and difficult to detect. But this doesn’t stop them campaigning against it, warning of illness and early death and calling for higher alcohol prices in supermarkets, high though they already are.

Whatever the truth, I feel that they should leave us alone. Private drinking by the old may be a problem, but it is a private problem, not a social one. It is not a problem about which ‘something must be done’. Binge drinking among the young needs addressing, because it leads to violence and disorder on the streets. But you never see gangs of elderly drunks rampaging through city centres.

It should also be recognised that many people find it hard to get through life without a bit to drink, and it is often surprising how little it can impair their performance. Winston Churchill might not have withstood the strain of the war without regular doses of brandy, and Margaret Thatcher was dependent on a glass of whisky at bedtime. Even journalists, who are now pretty abstemious, weren’t noticeably worse at their jobs when they were regularly sozzled.

So everything is now topsy-turvy. The old are becoming heavier drinkers than the young, who are edging along the road towards teetotalism. The upshot is that the old are coming to be seen as the baddies in society, which is rather an invigorating change. It may even help us feel young again. So let us relish our new role and do so in peace.

My response to this story was: and this is a bad thing because? …..  The booze industry must really be scared because if they’re relying on the older drinkers when they die where will their new customer base come from?  Maybe the younger generation are just fed up with seeing their parents and grandparents p*ssed and it’s made it ‘not cool’.  What do you think?

10 thoughts on “The elderly are society’s new booze baddies

  1. From other articles I’ve read, a lot of people end up turning to alcohol in later years due to loneliness and isolation, which is sad, as drinking to solve these particular problems will only make them worse. Also, I can imagine that a lot of the factors that used to hold me off having a drink – having to be there for my kids, caring for them, feeding them, getting them to bed, having to be places publicly doing stuff – these factors suddenly disappear in old age. No-one is going to wonder where you are if you decide to get pissed up randomly on a wednesday afternoon, so I can imagine that if you are a person who has been a heavy drinker but kept it relatively under control, then it might suddenly spin out of control upon retirement. Also – and I think it’s a generational thing, but perhaps this is not true? – most old people would rather die than admit (and have everyone know!) that they have a problem.

    1. Hello lovely 🙂 I agree with all that you said and I suspect I would have really spun out if I’d made it to retirement! Plus the habit would have been so much more engrained by then and therefore would have felt a Herculean task to change. It was hard enough after 30 years! Hope you’re enjoying the sunshine xx

  2. hmm, a private problem? god the/we English are dreadful…. let’s all just live in our own little caves, don’t ask/offer help, wouldn’t want to be needy/pushy or anything… sigh. what about the partners of the heavy drinkers? or the children? are they not just as affected by this, practically and emotionally, as partners/children of younger heavy drinkers?

    1. Ofcourse Prim but that would spoil the gist of the article wouldn’t it? 😉 We/the English love our narrow blinkered them and us view be it NIMBYism/not my problem/stiff upper lip sh*te. Individualism has replaced community at a hefty price …..

  3. You know… maybe the elderly ARE lonely, and have nothing else to do after mowing the lawn or whatever. Or maybe they’re simply reveling in one of the great freedoms of old age – the ability to do whatever the hell they want, like wear purple sweatpants and socks with flipflops to the grocery store. At least in the USA, advanced age gives you a pass on most social conventions.

  4. Well I am retired from teaching. I am 61.
    I found it very hard to decide what to do with my time, and drinking helped fill that time.
    There also was an element of freedom.
    I disagree that drinking by older people is a personal one.
    Many older people take drugs that should not be taken with alcohol. Those combinations might send them to ER, costing us money. Falls are another thing that can happen when older people drink, leading again to ER, and nursing care taking some of our taxes. Suicide.
    I think the problems are hidden.
    For me, blogging, meetings, yoga, and reading are a better choice!!!

    1. Thank you Wendy for sharing your experience 🙂 I can understand why drinking would fill previous hours when you worked – that makes perfect sense and there would be an element of feeling like you’re on holiday – so the freedom. I’m happy that you feel you’ve found better ways to fill that time and I’m happy that you’re here xx

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