Alcohol and the over 50s

Drinking in older age is often overlooked but can cause considerable damage to our health and wellbeing. Infact, overall alcohol intake is declining in the UK except in those aged 55 and over. 

There’s a multitude of reasons why over 50s may drink more than those in younger generations. They include: 

  • Retirement. 
  • Increased socialising and leisure time. 
  • Loss of purpose and focus. 
  • Lack of routine and structure. 
  • Bereavement including becoming widowed. 
  • Social isolation. 
  • Financial and health worries.  


A report by ‘Drink Wise Age Well’ investigated drinking in the over 50s and found that 74% of people they surveyed couldn’t identify the recommended alcohol limits, as advised by the Chief Medical Officer and the NHS. They used the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) to find out the drinking habits of over 16,000 people and found a significant minority who were classified as ‘increased risk’ or ‘high risk’ drinkers. This means their alcohol consumption is likely to affect their health and wellbeing. 

According to Drink Wise Age Well the following factors can be influential when looking at the relationship between older adults and alcohol use:  

  • Pain. People who have reported pain interfering with their daily activities or with their work were twice as likely to be higher risk drinkers.   
  • Stress. Those struggling to cope with or manage stress are 5 times more likely to be high risk drinkers.  
  • Mental health. People who were feeling depressed within the last month or finding that physical and mental health was impacting on their social activities/sense of achievement were 4 times more likely to be in the higher risk category.   


Drinking alcohol isn’t without risk at any age but regular intake as you get older comes with added risks: 

  • The rate in which we process alcohol slows down. As a result, alcohol toxins spend more time in the liver before they are metabolised, increasing the risk of liver damage. 
  • Hearing, vision and reaction times are affected as we get older. Alcohol is a depressant that affects the central nervous system. Consuming alcohol can impair our balance and coordination, delay reaction times and affect our judgement, as well as reduce our hearing and alter our vision. The older we get the more significant these effects may be – we already experience these things when sober. These factors make older people more likely to experience falls and have accidents in the home.  
  • Alcohol can also react with medications. It’s important to seek medical advice when being prescribed medication by your GP. Some medications that also act on the central nervous system, including anxiety medication and medication to lower blood pressure may affect how our bodies react to alcohol. With the likelihood of older people taking more medications for health conditions, it’s important to acknowledge any possible side effects.  


Alcohol related harm doesn’t just impact younger generations and it doesn’t just come from binge drinking. 80% of older adults in the increasing and higher risk categories have reported never being asked about their drinking by a health professional.  

If you feel you’re drinking is compromising your health and wellbeing, don’t be embarrassed, reach out and seek help. Get in touch with your GP who can signpost you to the most appropriate help. 

Thinking about a change in your drinking habits? You’re not alone. Join our free Drink Less programme and receive the compassionate support, guidance, and expertise you need. Whether you aim to stop drinking or simply want to reduce your intake for a healthier lifestyle, we’re here to help you every step of the way.


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