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Middle aged drinkers are going to have drink problems
Published:  28 May, 2015

Approximately 3.4 million middle aged people who drink regularly are going to have health problems, according to an alcohol education charity.

Drinkaware says the UK’s “hidden drinkers” regularly drink above the lower risk limits despite many recognising the potential health harms.

The Drinkaware Monitor: a survey of drinking behaviours and attitudes in the UK, conducted by Ipsos MORI  – finds that 45 to 64-year-olds are more likely than 18m to 24-year-olds to drink to increasing or higher risk levels - a third (32%) vs. one in five (19%).

Unlike young adults (aged 18-24) who tend to drink large amounts on one or two occasions a week, middle aged drinkers (aged 45-64) are more likely to spread their drinking across the week, says the alcohol education charity. Two-thirds of increasing or higher risk middle aged drinkers drink four or more times a week, putting themselves at risk of health problems.

This group of middle aged frequent drinkers is drinking the equivalent of almost three pints of 4% ABV lager five times a week for men or almost three standard 175ml glasses of 13% ABV wine five times a week for women. Over a week, this is the equivalent of consuming around an extra full day’s calorie intake.

While most say they are not getting drunk, these middle aged drinkers are in fact drinking alcohol at levels associated with serious health problems, including liver disease and cancer. One-in-20 (5%) of all drinkers aged 45-64 get drunk every time or most of the time they drink compared to three-in-10 (30%) of all 18 to 24-year-old drinkers.

Half (48%) of 45 to 64-year-olds who drink to increasing or higher risk levels believe that moderate drinking is good for your health and the same proportion (50%) believe they are unlikely to have increased health problems in later life if they continue to drink at their current level. 

When asked to identify the main types of health harms related to alcohol, most of the  45-64 and 18 to 24-year-olds surveyed say they associate drinking with liver disease but many struggle to identify other alcohol related health conditions:

·         liver disease was identified by 77% of 45 to 64-year-olds and 57% of 18 to 24-year-olds;

·         coronary heart disease by 20% of 45 to 64-year-olds and 12% of 18 to 24-year-olds;

·         weight gain/obesity by 15% of 45 to 64-year-olds and 7% of 18 to 24-year-olds;

·         cancer by 8% of 45 to 64-year-olds and 7% of 18 to 24-year-olds

Forty-five to 64-year-old drinkers appear reluctant to change their drinking behaviour despite many of them acknowledging that alcohol can harm your health. More than half (59%) of them say they don’t want guidance on how to moderate their drinking compared with just over a third (37%) of 18 to 24-year-olds who drink. This could be because although they are drinking above the lower risk limits, they do not perceive themselves to be at risk because they are not getting drunk.

Middle aged drinkers may think their drinking is not harmful because they are not experiencing negative consequences associated with drunkenness. However, when asked, one-in-six (17%) of 45 to 64-year-old drinkers said they had a feeling of guilt or remorse after drinking and one-in-10 (11%) said they failed to do what was normally expected of them because of their drinking.

Drinkaware chief executive Elaine Hindal said: “In contrast to public perceptions that young adults are the more risky drinkers in the UK, in fact over the course of the week, their parents’ generation are drinking more. Our research shows that 45 to 64-year-olds could potentially be sleepwalking into long term health problems as a result of their drinking patterns.

“Regularly drinking above the lower risk limits can increase your tolerance to the short-term effects of alcohol – but not to the strain it’s putting on your liver. As your tolerance increases, you’re more likely to drink more. This habitual behaviour could also put you at an increased risk of becoming alcohol dependent.  Just because you don’t feel like you are drinking enough to get drunk, doesn’t mean you aren’t damaging your health. This is one of the main reasons it’s important to give your liver a break by taking regular days off from drinking,” said Hindal.