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18 November 2020

More than four million over 50s are binge drinking at least once a week during lockdown

  • More than one in two (51.2%) over 50s are drinking at a level that could cause health problems now or in the future, with nearly one in four (23.7%) classed as high risk or possibly dependent.
  • Over 2.1 million over 50s say alcohol is negatively affecting their mental health.
  • More than 1.9 million over 50s say lockdown restrictions lead them to start drinking earlier in the day.
  • More than 5.2 million over 50s say the restrictions have led to them drinking alone.
  • More than 1.3 million over 50s say this second national lockdown will lead to them drinking even more.
  • A new free and confidential over 50s alcohol helpline is being launched today by With You. Anyone over 50 who may be worried about their drinking can call 0808 8010750 or visit www.wearewithyou.org.uk for more info.

More than four million over 50s in the UK are binge drinking at least once a week during lockdown, according to new research, released today by drug, alcohol and mental health charity With You (We Are With You).

An Opinion Matters poll, commissioned by With You, shows how the necessary restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus are seriously impacting the drinking habits of older adults in the UK. A screening tool used in the research showed that more than one in two over 50s are drinking at a level that could cause health problems now or in the future, while nearly one in four are classed as high risk or possibly dependent.

Meanwhile, more than 5.2 million over 50s say the restrictions have led to them drinking alone, more than 2.1 million say alcohol is negatively affecting their mental health and more than 1.9 million say lockdown restrictions lead them to start drinking earlier in the day.

A recent study from the Centre for Ageing Better found 32% of people aged between 50 and 70 have been drinking more as a result of the pandemic. Meanwhile, Data from the Office for National Statistics shows that people over 55 are most likely to drink at hazardous levels, with consumption among this group increasing in recent years while it decreases among younger age groups. With You’s research shows the scale of this issue looks set to increase over the next few weeks, with more than 1.3 million over 50s saying a second national lockdown will lead to them drinking even more.

The poll also showed how over 50s drinking can impact their loved ones. One in three (33%) of people with parents who are over 50 are concerned about at least one of their parents' drinking habits since March. And nearly a quarter of the same group (24%) think their parents are likely to drink more as a result of a second lockdown. At the same time more than a quarter of over 50s said they would not ask anyone for help in relation to their drinking.

To help more older adults access the support they need, With You is launching a new over-50s specific alcohol helpline using learning from its Drink Wise Age Well programme funded by The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK. It is a free, national helpline, made possible thanks to National Lottery players, running seven days a week where you can speak to a trained advisor for confidential advice, information and support to anyone aged 50 or over who may be worried about their drinking. Just call 0808 8010750 or visit www.wearewithyou.org.uk for more information.

Julie Breslin, Head of the Drink Wise, Age Well programme at With You said:

“We know that life changes such as bereavement, retirement and a lack of purpose have led to older adults drinking more in recent years while younger generations are drinking less. Nearly 80% of over 50s we work with drink at home alone, hidden from view.

“It’s clear from these findings that the necessary coronavirus restrictions have exacerbated these issues whilst having a big impact on older adult’s mental health. Many older adults are unable to see their loved ones or friends and are drinking more as a way to cope with increased loneliness, isolation and anxiety. As people age their bodies find it harder to process alcohol, so the number of people over 50 who are binge drinking at the current time is really alarming. The impact of this will ripple through families as well as support services and the NHS.

“Across our whole society, only one in five dependent drinkers are accessing support, with older adults often facing additional barriers to coming forward. Our work shows over 50s are most likely to reach out to a service that’s specifically aimed at them. That’s why we are launching this helpline. To anyone 50 or over who’s concerned about their drinking, give us a call. You’ll speak to someone who understands what you’re going through and can support you to make healthier choices that will benefit all parts of your life.”

Andy (53) accessed support from With You during the pandemic. He said:

“I started drinking heavily a few years after leaving the army. I lost touch with family and friends and would drink to get through the evenings. I’m not surprised there’s been an increase in people my age binge drinking at the current time. When the first national lockdown came in it gave me even more of a reason to drink at home. I could knock back two bottles of wine in an hour easily. What else was there to do?

“Then one day I just thought I’ve had enough. I made a few calls and was referred to a With You service. I was pleasantly surprised that my worker, Lorna, didn’t judge me or label me an alcoholic. She asked me what I wanted to achieve and concentrated on me as a person rather than the alcohol. We worked on being more sociable and filling my time in different ways. With her help, alcohol doesn’t have the same hold over me anymore. I still have the occasional drink but nothing like a few months ago.

“To the millions of people out there going through a similar experience, my message is don’t give up. Changing your relationship with alcohol can seem like an uphill task but you’d be amazed at what you can achieve with the right support.”