The findings of the study suggest that
harmful drinking is a 'middle class
'. Researchers warn that it may be a hidden health and social problem
in otherwise successful older
people. They have called for explicit guidelines on alcohol consumption
group. For the study, Professor José
Iparraguirre from the Research Department of Age UK analyzed the drinking
habits and other lifestyle information of more than 9,000 adults aged over 50
years of age. This data came from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing
(ELSA). Considering that alcohol consumption is rising steadily among older
people in England, the research team looked for possible links between people's
drinking habits and their age, income, lifestyle and social situation.
The researchers defined higher risk drinking
guidelines set out by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence
(NICE). NICE suggests that having more
than 50 units of alcohol per week for men
(equivalent to five or more
bottles of wine per week or 16 pints or more of strong lager), and over 35 units per week for women
(equivalent to three-and-half bottles of wine or 11 pints or more of strong
lager) should be classified as harmful drinking.
Several socioeconomic factors
were found to be associated with harmful or high risk alcohol consumption
behavior among older people. The results suggested different patterns among men
Women between 50 to 90 years of age
were less likely to be high risk drinkers
. On the
contrary, men's risk of harmful drinking peaked in their mid 60s, before
declining. The researchers said, "These patterns suggest that the current group
of over 50s may be carrying on levels of higher consumption developed in their
younger years, in later life."
Researchers also observed
that achieving higher educational attainment and smoking could be linked to
being in the higher risk drinking category.
Higher income was associated
with high risk drinking among women. But this did not hold true in case of men.
Researchers were unable to
find any link between having a job and higher risk drinking. But, they
suggested that retirement increased the chances of harmful drinking for women.
Men who were single,
separated or divorced were more likely to be in the higher risk drinking
was found to be more common among men of white ethnicity.
Loneliness and depression
was not associated with higher
in either sex.
- Having caring
responsibilities lowered a woman's probability of being in the higher risk
- It did not
affect the drinking habits among men or women.
Smoking, higher educational
attainment, and good health
all linked to increased risk of harmful drinking in both sexes.
Professor Jose Iparraguirre said, "Our findings
suggest that harmful drinking in later life is more prevalent among people who
exhibit a lifestyle associated with affluence and with a 'successful' ageing
process. Because this group is typically healthier than other parts of the older
population, they might not realize that what they are doing is putting their
health in danger."
When the research team analyzed
the changes in alcohol consumption between the two waves of the survey, they
found that for women, being younger and having a higher income can be
associated with the likelihood of becoming a higher risk drinker over time.
For men, these transition
patterns were similar, except that having caring responsibilities, lower
income, loneliness and older age increased the likelihood of no longer drinking
at high risk levels by wave 2 of the survey.
However, the study had certain
limitations. The researchers cautioned that since the study produced a lot of
results, there is always a possibility of chance findings. Also, the study
followed people for a maximum of three years. Studies tracking drinking
behavior among people over longer periods of time might show different
patterns. The researchers also pointed out that the ELSA study only recorded
weekly rather than daily alcohol consumption.