Overage Drinkers

This was an excellent radio interview looking at overage drinkers on BBC Radio 4.

overage drinkers


Leala and her late father


Heavy drinking by older people is causing a major public health risk in the UK, yet the issue often falls below the radar.

While alcohol consumption among the young is falling, the over 60s are drinking more, and more harmfully, with one in three developing problems with alcohol for the first time in later life and alcohol-related hospital admissions among the old rising alarmingly.

BBC reporter Leala Padmanabhan investigates, starting with the story of her own father who developed alcoholism in his 70s while caring for her mother, who has alcoholism-related dementia. Despite his background as a doctor and his long experience of witnessing his wife’s alcoholism, Leala’s father was unable to rehabilitate himself, and his drink problem helped contribute to his death in 2010.

Leala’s family is the starting point for a programme telling her own and similar stories.

A large number of people are developing problems in later life, partly because of social factors associated with their age, such as loneliness, bereavement, depression and boredom.

In addition to these late-onset drinkers there is a large number of “baby boomers” who are carrying heavy drinking patterns into old age.

And yet alcohol problems are less likely to be detected in older people, and where problems are detected, they are less likely to be referred to an alcohol service for treatment.

Leala talks to family members and friends about her own father’s decline. She also interviews people grappling with a similar problem, campaigners working to raise awareness, people working in treatment services, and social and medical experts.


It’s 40 mins long and really really well worth a listen 🙂

And then Radio 4 followed up with a You and Yours where they asked people to call in:

Call You and Yours: Are you drinking more than is good for you?

Again 40 minutes long and very good.

These were followed by a number of newspaper headlines and reporting on published research articles:

Middle class pensioners risking health by drinking a bottle of whisky a week

Baby boomers are risking their health by drinking way too much in older age | Telegraph, UK

Many white English and Irish pensioners ‘drinking to excess’

“One in five people over 65 who drink is consuming an “unsafe” level of alcohol, say researchers,” BBC News reports. Their research also found that “unsafe drinking was far more common among the white British and Irish population” | NHS Choices: Behind the Headlines, UK

Elderly people warned over alcohol consumption

  • One in five people over 65 who drink is consuming an “unsafe” level of alcohol, say researchers.
  • Experts warned that GPs were “less attuned” to drinking problems among elderly people.
  • Analysis of health records in London found that heavier drinkers tended to be male and relatively affluent.

Alcohol use, socioeconomic deprivation and ethnicity in older people

Although under-reporting in high-alcohol consumption groups and poor health in older people who have stopped or controlled their drinking may have limited the interpretation of our results, we suggest that closer attention is paid to ‘young older’ male drinkers, as well as to older drinkers born outside the UK and those with lower levels of socioeconomic deprivation who are drinking above safe limits (BMJ)

Alcohol addiction is ruining older lives, too

A radio documentary about my beloved Uncle Pad shows how easily ‘normal’ drinking can escalate in response to the stresses that come with ageing.

Edited to add: 19/10/2015 More coverage –

Alcohol Harm and Older People 

It is a pleasure to be here and I welcome the opportunity to speak about the very real and damaging effects of alcohol harm on older people | They work for you, UK

Cheap alcohol behind rising numbers of pensioner deaths, say experts

The number of North-East pensioners admitted to hospital for alcohol-related reasons has increased by 77 per cent since 2006 | Northern Echo, UK

Edited to add: 26th April 2016

Alcohol use across retirement: a qualitative study of drinking in later life

This report presents the results of a qualitative exploration of older people’s drinking and the factors which influence their use of alcohol | Glasgow Centre for Population Health, UK

Alcohol consumption has increased in retirees, Government figures reveal

Alcohol-related hospital admissions are falling for younger age groups, but increasing for the over 65s, new figures reveal | Local.gov, UK

Edited to add 11th May:

The ‘Baby Boomer’ effect of increased alcohol-related harm

Last week (4 May 2016), Public Health England published its annual statistics for alcohol-related hospital admissions for England. Although we have usually associated the public health consequences of alcohol misuse with younger men, we have begun to see a very different picture emerge over the past decade | IAS Blog, UK

Edited to add 12th June:

Older people’s drinking needs to be recognised and not stigmatized

A recent report provides further insight into the nature of drinking amongst older adults as an issue of increasing attention across the UK. Produced by the Glasgow Centre for Population Health, the research explores the complex range of factors and influences affecting drinking in later life, and how retirement and other significant changes can trigger changes in drinking patterns | Alcohol Policy UK, UK

Edited to add: 8th October 2016

The growing number of older people being treated for alcohol dependence is ‘all over us like a rash’, according to an article in The Huffington Post. The number of people in England aged over 60 being treated for alcohol dependence rose 38% between 2009/10 to 2013/14 as ‘the ‘Baby Boomer’ Generation continue with hedonistic lifestyles into their later years’ | Alcohol Policy UK, UK

Edited to add 7/11/16 (Alcohol Policy UK)

Phil Collins is ‘back from the brink’ after alcohol problems, covered by a range of media reports – BBC here. The singer’s new autobiography, Not Dead Yet, details his past alcohol problems. After three years of sobriety, Collins says he’s “quite capable of having two or three glasses”, and blamed his past problems on the “gaping void” of divorce and an empty calendar. A Telegraph article, Phil Collins and the rise of mid-lifers drinking their way to oblivion, further details how his alcohol problems came about, which are symptomatic of alcohol problems amongst the ‘baby boomers’ according to Dr Tony Rao.

3 thoughts on “Overage Drinkers

    1. Thanks for sharing the link Wendy. It’s interesting how the boomers seem to be the focal point of the concern now isn’t it? Early retirement and plenty of time and money maybe? xx

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