Alcohol Abuse in the Middle-Aged and Elderly
Overall, alcohol abuse and risky episodic drinking has been in decline among young and middle-aged persons (<50) in the UK and Australia. However, recent findings (Rao and Rouche, 2017) published in the British Medical Journal have demonstrated that alcohol abuse has increased significantly among those over age 50. The good news is that The Office for National Statistics (UK), which has been tracking drinking patterns and prevalence since 2005, and these data revealed that the number of people abstaining from alcohol in 2016 was the highest recorded since tracking was instituted. In addition, there is positive correlation between wealth and alcohol abuse in the UK, specifically among those earning over £40,000 per year. Wealth is an empirically derived predictor of alcohol abuse disorder.
Drug Abuse in the Middle-Aged and Elderly
The same research revealed that persons over age 50 have higher rates of both past year and of lifetime use and abuse of illicit drugs, most notably cannabis.
Additional findings reveal that the greatest percentage increase in drug misuse and abuse between the study period of 2013 and 2016 has occurred among people over age 60.
These data also reveal an increasing prevalence and number of women who are drinking most heavily in later life. Analysis of these data reveal that alcohol abuse in later life is correlated by adverse life events including retirement, changing living arrangements, isolation from family and friends, and grief and loss. All of these share a common theme—isolation and loneliness.
Why Does This Matter?
Concurrent data on chronic pain and depression among the middle-aged and elderly are also associated with Substance Use Disorder.
Social changes over the last 50 years have taken a heavy toll on the extended family, and in particular, the elderly, who were once esteemed and cared for by their children and extended family—a tradition that has endured through many millennia. The shift away from an agro-cultural economy to a highly technical economic system has resulted in changes we are just beginning to understand; e.g., today’s families move approximately every four to five years. This has unwittingly uprooted important familial, social and emotional attachments and has isolated the elderly, who now live longer than ever. But the better question is – what is the quality of their lives?
Additional psychosocial research regarding the impact of alcohol and drug use among those over age 50 will enable policy makers and medical providers to better respond to the complex social and medical needs of this cohort.