While it’s common to think of drug and alcohol addiction as a problem for high school students, college students, and stressed out up-and-coming professionals, recent research indicates that “successful agers” – those over 50 who are physically healthy, financially comfortable, and well educated – are at particular risk for excessive drinking. The study, led by a chief economist at Age UK (a British charity), found this “middle-class phenomenon” to be true among more than 9,000 British respondents surveyed in 2008-2009 and 2010-2011.
“Our findings suggest that harmful drinking later in life is more prevalent among people who exhibit a lifestyle associated with affluence and with a ‘successful’ aging process,” researchers reported.
Why? According to Dr. Eric Collins, physician-in-chief at Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan, Connecticut, reasons may include:
- Finances. The ‘successful’ group has more money to spend on alcohol without worrying about their budget.
- Time. ‘Successful’ older adults have more time to spend drinking than those working long hours or committed to multiple jobs.
- Good health. Older adults who have maintained good health may believe they are insulated from the harmful effects of substance abuse.
Bruce Goldman, director of Substance Abuse Services at The Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, NY, believes that it is critical to be on the lookout for these at-risk older adults. “All health care providers should adopt brief universal alcohol screening procedures. In this way we can begin to talk openly with patients about their use of alcohol and the risks involved as they age,” he said.
Additional Study Findings
- Employment was not significant to the findings, but retired women were found to be associated with a higher drinking risk.
- There was an elevated drinking risk among male and female smokers.
- There was an increased risk among men who live alone (single, separated, or divorced).
- Loneliness and depression did not appear to increase the risk for problem drinking.
- Alcohol problems were seen more often in white participants than among minorities.
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- Eric Collins, M.D., physician-in-chief, Silver Hill Hospital, New Canaan, Conn.; Bruce Goldman, director, Substance Abuse Services, The Zucker Hillside Hospital, Glen Oaks, N.Y.; BMJ Open, news release, July 23, 2015