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Alcohol misuse in the Over 50s costing £125 million

A new report from Queen’s University Belfast, commissioned by the advice and support programme Drink Wise Age Well, has found alcohol misuse among people over 50 is costing Northern Ireland healthcare services an estimated £125 million.

Glass of red wine

Alcohol-related deaths in Northern Ireland are at their highest since records began, increasing 70% since 2001. This increase is particularly stark in older age groups with the largest number of deaths occurring among those aged between 45 and 54 years, closely followed by those aged 55-64 years.

A 2018 study by Public Health England found for every £1 invested in alcohol treatment services there is a social return of £3.

The report coincides with the publication of Calling Time for Change, a charter for politicians and policy makers about how to reduce alcohol harm among people over 50. The charter was co-designed with people and families affected by alcohol problems and alcohol and ageing experts from the Drink Wise, Age Well programme:

Recommendations for policy makers in the charter include:

  • A dedicated service within health and social care which is able to respond to the needs of an ageing population with alcohol problems
  • Enable better collaboration and partnership amongst service providers
  • More recognition of the importance of supporting people through life events, which are often the triggers for alcohol misuse e.g. retirement, bereavement
  • Greater support of community-based services to tackle loneliness and support recovery   
  • Government must address how drinking culture is enabled by policy and legislation.

Professor Ciaran O'Neill from the Centre for Public Health, Queen's University Belfast said: 

“The issue of alcohol misuse has received increased attention in recent months arising in part from the publication of mortality statistics showing a sharp rise in alcohol related deaths. This report highlights  the significant burden to the health service of managing alcohol misuse related morbidity. Our estimate  of £125 million per year is conservative but serves to underscore the magnitude of the problem. The scale of the issue suggest there is a need to consider public health measures such as the adoption of minimum unit pricing among broader public health measures and the provision of support services to those seeking to quit drinking.”

A Drink Wise, Age Well service user, describes what worked for him: “Drink Wise, Age Well completely changed my life. I really felt that I needed the group support but I also found the one-to-one support very beneficial in my case. I had a lot of issues that I didn’t want to discuss in the group but I was able to discuss and resolve with my adviser. I now have the confidence to go to events that have alcohol and not drink and still enjoy the evening.”

Adrian Loughrey, Drink Wise, Age Well said: “The report reveals the significant health costs of alcohol misuse in Northern Ireland today. However the costs are more than financial - it can devastate families and communities and stop people having an active and healthy later life. We believe that older adults can make positive changes to their alcohol use and it is never too late for this to happen. But we need to ensure services are designed in a way that feels welcoming to people over 50. At the moment we’re only reaching a  fraction of the people who could use some support.”



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