According to a study by AGE UK’s chief economist, Professor Jose Iparraguirre, affluent over 50s are most at risk of harmful drinking, and researchers have warned that it’s a health and social problem hiding in plain sight.
A study of more than 9,000 people concluded that people over 50 who are healthy, active, sociable and highly educated are more at risk of harmful drinking than their peers who are less well-off – it’s an issue that is largely unrecognised because this group is typically healthier than other parts of the older population.
In the study, higher-risk drinking is defined as consuming more than 50 alcohol units per week for men and over 35 units per week for women – roughly equivalent to five or more bottles of wine for men and 3.5 for women.
To combat this “middle class” phenomenon, the study recommends explicit age-specific guidelines on alcohol intake to help educate over 50s about the risks of drinking too much. Harmful drinking can lead to conditions such as stroke, some cancers, depression and liver disease.
“Our analysis challenges popular perceptions of who is drinking too much,” Professor Jose Iparraguirre, who carried out the research, said.
“It suggests public health messaging is not reaching high income groups who are most at risk.
“Because this group is typically healthier than other parts of the older population, they might not realise that what they are doing is putting their health in danger.”
Understanding the guidelines
What the study highlights is that harmful drinking doesn’t always look how we might expect; through many of us can recognise overt signs of alcoholism, overconsumption can be more difficult to detect because often it takes place in our own homes.
Rather than bouts of binge drinking, the study suggests people are failing to recognise how several glasses of wine with dinner or drinks in the evening can add up and develop into a pattern of moderate drinking over time.
Current NHS guidelines recommend that men consume no more than 21 units of alcohol and women 14 units of alcohol per week. Understanding how many units you are drinking will go a long way to making sure you regularly stay within the NHS guidelines. For example:
- A pint of beer is 2 units
- A standard glass of wine is 2.1 units
- A bottle of beer or cider is 1.7 units
- A single small shot of spirits is 1 unit
Under the guidelines, a safe amount of alcohol works out to roughly one regular-sized glass of wine per day for women and one large-sized glass of wine per day for men.
The simplest way to understand if you may be drinking too much is to keep a drinks diary – this one from the NHS helpfully outlines how many units are in most drinks and makes it easy for you to quickly assess whether you may need to cut back after tracking how much you drink in a typical week.
Do you think over 50s need to watch their alcohol consumption more closely?
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