Older people's drinking habits: Very little, very often - IAS
Official statistics on the consumption habits of older people in UK over recent years indicate that they consume fewer units than younger generations (see Young people and alcohol factsheet for more information), but that they are more likely to drink on an almost daily basis over the course of a week. It could be argued that compared to their children (and grandchildren, in the case of women aged 65 and over) older people drink very little, but very often. But the rising number of alcohol-related admissions/discharges and deaths in the UK among those aged 65 years and over highlights the health problems underlying their consumption habits.
Reasons for drinking and types of older drinkers
The sudden disruption in lifestyle caused by retirement and bereavement – which can lead to decreased social activity – is thought to be a major contributory factor among older people who develop a drinking problem, as are isolation and loneliness. Some justify the regular consumption of particular beverages (i.e. brandy, rum) on the grounds that it acts as an anaesthetic with medicinal properties which help remedy illnesses and pains, but this may instead help to foster a dependence on alcohol.
Researchers have identified 3 types of elderly drinkers:
Early-onset drinkers (Survivors): those who have a continuing problem with alcohol which developed in earlier life. Because of the health risks connected to heavy drinking and dependence on alcohol, the lifespan of a problem drinker may be shortened by on average 10 to 15 years.
Late-onset drinkers (Reactors): they begin problematic drinking later in life, often in response to traumatic life events such as the death of a loved one, loneliness, pain, insomnia, retirement, etc.
Intermittent (Binge drinkers): they use alcohol occasionally and sometimes drink to excess which may cause them problems.