When we think of problem drinking, we may think of headlines featuring young people drinking heavily or alcohol’s contribution to homelessness. But alcohol misuse among older people is a serious problem: since the 1990s 60% more men and twice as many women have begun drinking at unhealthy levels. And as the UK’s older population grows, we expect to see the problem of alcohol misuse in older people growing too. The following guest blog post by Simon Antrobus, Cheif Executive of Addaction, has been written to complement our new collection of essays, ‘Alone in the Crowd: Loneliness and diversity’.
“Below rock bottom”
For older people whose lives are damaged by alcohol misuse, they may feel they’ve truly hit rock bottom – and worse. When one man in his mid-sixties lost his job, it led to what was first just a small increase in his drinking.
Before long, his use of alcohol had contributed to the end of his relationship and an arrest for assault. And the worst part? “The never-ending loneliness.”
The vulnerability of loneliness
Loneliness is an important factor in alcohol misuse among older people, both as a cause and a consequence.
The loneliness an older person feels after the loss of a loved one, dwindling social networks and rare family visits can be a ‘vulnerability factor’ leading to reliance on alcohol. Once a problem drinking pattern is established, that loneliness and isolation only grows worse, making it harder and harder to seek help.
First class citizens
Our society doesn’t always recognise the needs of the older generation. Often, we’re quick to recognise the challenges faced by younger people, but rarely consider the very real problems and difficulties that come in later life.
If we’re to tackle the problem of alcohol abuse in older people, and the desperate sense of loneliness it brings, we need to recognise that the lives of older people are as valuable and important as any other – and just as deserving of a chance to make a fresh start.
At Addaction we’re committed to finding simple and effective ways to help older people isolated by alcohol misuse to tackle both their loneliness and their dependence on drinking.
We take a holistic approach, looking at their lifestyle and all the professionals who may be able to play their part, from GPs to home care providers. In Glasgow, our support service aimed at older people helps those who feel isolated and lonely to understand they’re not alone.
Peer support such as befriending and group meetings helps rebuild a sense of belonging. We look at the ‘whole person’, understanding that problem drinking is a symptom of wider problems – and often of loneliness that started long before.
As our older population grows we have to be committed to helping older people out of the loneliness that comes with alcohol misuse – and preventing it from happening at all.