So this post was actually published by The Guardian last summer but I’m posting it today to catch those at the end of their January abstensions and relates to the scale of addiction in over 50’s. This would have been me as I turn 50 this year so hits a particular resonance.
Alcohol and substance abuse, and their detrimental health effects, have reached worrying levels among baby boomers in Britain. Katherine Brown from the Institute of Alcohol Studies sums it up: “This is the first generation of home-drinkers who are far more likely to buy cheap supermarket alcohol than visit their local pub. They are drinking more than their parents and it’s no surprise that their health is starting to suffer as a result.”
Tabloid imagery of inebriated young people lolling in the gutter couldn’t be more misleading. The hard core of the drinking problem is those aged 55 to 74, who outstrip any other age group including millennials for alcohol-related injuries, diseases and conditions.
The phenomenon is being seen in other countries as well – by 2020 the number of people receiving treatment for substance misuse problems is expected to double in Europe, and treble in the US, among those aged over 50. Cannabis, opioids and prescription medications are increasingly part of the picture.
In the UK there are calls for tailored addiction programmes for older people. Karen Tyrell, from charity Addaction, said: “[Older adults’] drinking and drug use tends to be around age-related issues, so things like retirement, bereavement [and] being quite lonely.” Screening for alcohol dependency and other drug issues during visits for health problems such as dementia or liver disease is also being proposed. On a practical level, older people should limit their standard drinks to a maximum of 11 a week rather than the government guideline of 14, says Dr Tony Rao, an old-age psychiatrist with expertise on the issue.
And this piece was followed up the next day with this:
More than half a million adults aged between 55 and 74 were admitted to English hospitals with alcohol-related injuries, diseases or conditions in 2015-16 – more than for any other age group, according to NHS Digital data.
While risky drinking is on the wane in the UK and Australia, those in the over-50 age bracket buck the trend. By 2020 the number of people receiving treatment for substance misuse problems is expected to double in Europe, and treble in the US, among those aged over 50.
We asked people over 50 to share their experiences and thoughts on the trend.
‘What started out as a hobby became a problem’ – Adrienne, 62, Wellington, New Zealand
My experience was drinking too much wine for years, over a bottle pretty much every night for maybe three to four years before I stopped altogether eight years ago. I was a wine aficionado and really knew my vintners, wineries and wines. What started at as a hobby became a problem.
Wine is alcohol, but I really thought of it as a food group. I loved the mystic, the people and places and the taste of wine. Alcohol addiction is a progressive condition. I was in my early 5os before it became a problem.
I received private addiction therapy for about six months. I had few bad physiological effects from stopping drinking, just a long process to undo a life centred around wine and entertainment. Normalising alcohol addiction in private was critical to developing a bit more self esteem and more emotional honesty. I became a much nicer more grateful person when I stopped feeling ashamed of myself and hiding bad hangovers. I went to AA a couple of times and made lots of people laugh with my stories of self deception. That was good too, but I didn’t feel the need to go regularly.
I am a very high-profile person in NZ, and most people would be astonished to know I was once addicted to alcohol.
‘If you use a poison as an antidote to life you are in real trouble’ – Phil, 61, London
Heavy drinking over decades slipped into dependency and on to addiction, where everything I did revolved around where to find the next drink, notwithstanding that I held down a job and was successful. I used substances to negate fear and anxiety with life and numb emotions, which in my experience is the a common element among addicts. Alcohol was my go-to friend to cope with life – and if you use a poison as an antidote to life, you are in real trouble.
Addiction is an illness and the most selfish of conditions. Nothing, including family, could stop me in my quest for oblivion on a nightly basis. Sure, there were good times along with the bad, but there came a point where despite knowing I had a problem I continued to drink and put at risk material success and relationships.
It is unfortunate that we addicts have to reach a real crisis point physically or mentally, a rock bottom, before we decide to change. That was three years ago, and I have been sober since then.
Lets be clear: this is not social heavy drinking – it is a need to be alone with a bottle and no one in the way. After a particular bad binge, it was clear that the drink was no longer working and I was so desperately miserable and unhappy (mostly with myself) that I had to take action for myself and not anyone else, or end up dead or in a mental hospital. I was reluctantly ready to do what no one else could make me do: go to rehab and begin a total rethink around alcohol.
One-on-one therapy became a weekly story of my drinking and unhappiness but with no solution. Residential rehab for three weeks where for the first time in years I had the opportunity with help to look at how I was destroying myself and those around me allowed me to understand I was trapped in addiction and the freedom that might be on offer if I could recover. I regularly attended AA, despite being an atheist. Do not be put off by the religious element. Freedom from addiction is far too important not to discuss it. The fellowship is full of interesting people ready to help.
• In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. Hotlines in other countries can be found here.
There is huge evidence building about this age group and the issue and I’ve written about it too and you can read here where I have collated all news sources into one post:
It goes without saying that if you are reading this and you think this describes you then please seek help before you pick up a drink again now February is here.