A recent study published by BMJ Open found and authored by Age UK’s chief economist, Professor Jose Iparraguirre, surveyed around 9,000 different people in England. It intended to explore the ‘socioeconomic determinants of risk of harmful alcohol drinking and the transitions between risk categories over time’, specifically among those over the age of 50 in England.
As is probably expected, the study found several socioeconomic factors associated with high-risk alcohol consumption. For example, it found that single, separated or divorced men were at a greater risk of harmful drinking. Opposite this, women who earn higher incomes at a lower age are more likely to become higher-risk drinkers over time.
Perhaps most surprisingly, the study found that people who are over the age of 50 and are widely considered active, healthy, successful and solvent are actually at a higher risk of engaging in excessive drinking than their peers who are less well-off. Given their relative prosperity, the at-risk people in this category are less likely to identify and acknowledge problems behaviours before they escalate.
The fact that the people in this category are otherwise well-off and seemingly healthy could end up reinforcing their potentially harmful drinking habits, as they have cause to believe that everything is as it should be. It is much more difficult for problem-drinkers in this state of mind to seek help when they need it.
Experts are warning that hidden, harmful drinking is—in essence—a middle-class phenomenon. Those who are at risk live otherwise healthy lives. They eat well, exercise regularly and (in many cases) appear to drink relatively little to those looking in from the outside.
Researchers involved in this study have warned that an excessive and harmful level of drinking amongst these at-risk groups is also a social concern. Drinking too much alcohol is directly linked to dozens of medical conditions, including stroke, cancer and liver disease.