Are You Aged 50 And Drinking Too Much?

Armen Hareyan's picture

Manchester Community Health is supporting an alcohol awareness campaign aimed at the over 50s which will go live in Manchester. The campaign aims to raise awareness of alcohol and safer drinking as part of a wider programme of local work promoting healthy ageing and reducing alcohol related harm.

The campaign will kick start a programme of training for NHS staff who have the opportunity to offer brief alcohol advice during blood pressure checks, cancer screening, smoking cessation advice, hospital attendance, mental health assessments, medication reviews, etc. A website and information pack will be made available clarifying common myths and facts (e.g. is red wine good for your heart?) and includes a drinks' diary to help keep a regular check on weekly drinking habits. Outdoor poster advertising will appear across the city over the next two weeks.

In general a lot of people do not realise that their drinking could be putting themselves at risk and are unaware of the links with ill-health. Media attention and public health initiatives have so far tended to focus almost exclusively on younger populations. It is still believed that talking about drinking is the same as 'having a drink problem' or being judged as 'alcoholic' when in fact early identification and advice proves effective across all age groups.

Because over 50s are not all the same and there are different patterns of drinking across different age groups, for this first campaign we are focusing on the age group between 50 and 65. On current data, it is thought that the proportion of people drinking decreases significantly with age, with nearly 3 times more men and four times more women drinking over sensible limits in their late 50s compared with the oldest age group, aged 85 and above (Acquire, 2002).

A local study of inpatients at the Royal Bolton Hospital patients aged 60 years and older were assessed for alcohol intake and primary and secondary reasons for admission (Mehta et al, 2006). The average weekly alcohol intake was 78.5 units for men and 47 units for women. Harmful drinking, in unit terms, has been defined for men as drinking more than 50 units in one week and for women drinking more than 35 units in one week. Acute intoxication, falls, circulatory problems and alcohol related liver disease were the main primary reasons for admission. Neglect or malnutrition, other complications of alcohol related liver disease and hypertension were the main secondary reasons.


Two types of drinking patterns are researched among older adults: ''early-onset" drinking patterns (harmful patterns of drinking existing throughout life) and "late-onset" drinking patterns (harmful patterns of drinking triggered in later life). This campaign particularly focuses on "late-onset" drinking patterns. There is insufficient research identifying the triggers to "late-onset" drinking however some self-evident causes or triggers identified include:

o Mental stress

o Physical ill health

o Changes in role / purpose

o Separation / divorce / bereavement

o Loss of job, income or use of skills

In addition to the social context, unit intake alone may increase without people realising because alcoholic drinks are often stronger and measures are larger. This coupled with larger servings of drinks at home generally adds to the likelihood of additional unit intake. Wine has become increasingly popular among men and women aged 40 - 64, accounting for 40% and 70% of total consumption respectively (NHS Information Centre, 2008). Current UK guidelines recommend that men do not exceed 3-4 units in one day and women do not exceed 2-3 units in one day. Safer drinking habits such as reducing units of alcohol in a single sitting can significantly reduce the risk of certain cancers (bower, breast, throat and mouth cancer), improve mental health and reduce the risk of stroke.