Today, the report by Dame Sally Davies talks about tackling liver disease caused by excessive alcohol consumption. Tackling the causes of excessive alcohol consumption should also be a crucial part of a prevention strategy. One of those causes is loneliness; people living alone, and feeling alone, may turn to drink to compensate for their lack of satisfying relationships. We are not alone in thinking that pricing alone may not curb the rise in alcohol misuse. Another organisation that has stated that loneliness can cause alcohol misuse is Alcohol Research UK. Their research from earlier this year included loneliness as a one of their ‘vulnerability’ factors – changes that can occur as we grow older that can trigger heavy drinking. Other vulnerabilities include becoming less mobile, experiencing bereavement or chronic pain and having decreased social support, all of which the Campaign to End Loneliness has also previously identified as risk factors for loneliness.
At the Campaign to End Loneliness we often talk about the negative health implications of loneliness – it is a comparable risk to mortality as lifelong smoking – but the information on alcohol abuse from Alcohol Research UK demonstrates just how loneliness can physically hurt us by prompting harmful behaviour. The circular nature of loneliness with other health and public health problems means that the Campaign is calling for loneliness to be considered a threat to health. A better understanding by health and public health professionals and commissioners about the causes and the effects of loneliness on health, such as increased consumption of alcohol, is needed now, to prevent some of those most at risk of loneliness, such as the larger numbers of people living alone in the 45 – 65 age bracket, from becoming isolated and lonely in older age.
For further information on alcohol misuse in older age see:
Wadd, S., Lapworth, K., Sullivan, M., Forrester, D. and Galvani, S. (2011) Working with Older Drinkers (Tilda Goldberg Centre and University of Bedfordshire: http://alcoholresearchuk.org/downloads/finalReports/FinalReport_0085)