Successful people at extra risk of harmful drinking

London: People who are in their 50s and are “successful agers” – healthy, active, sociable and well off – are more at the risk of harmful drinking than their less successful peers, researchers have warned.

Harmful drinking is a “middle-class phenomenon” that may be a hidden health and social problem in otherwise successful older people, they added.

“We can sketch the problem of harmful drinking among people aged 50 or over as a ‘middle class phenomenon’. These are healthy people with higher income, higher educational attainment, socially more active and are more likely to drink at harmful levels,” the authors wrote in the BMJ Open journal.

Higher risk of harmful drinking was not linked to feelings of loneliness or depression but it was more likely among men living on their own, including those who were separated or divorced.

Caring responsibilities lowered the probability of being at higher risk among women, but religious belief did not – for either sex.

Employment status did not seem to be a significant factor but women who had retired were more likely to be at higher risk, the study noted.

Income was associated with a higher risk but only among women while smoking, higher educational attainment and good health were all linked to heightened risk in both sexes.

The authors analysed over 9000 responses to the English Longitudinal Survey of Ageing (ELSA) – a long term study of a representative sample of those aged 50 and above living independently at home in England.

They used national guidance to define increasing risk of harmful drinking at 22-50 weekly units for men and 15 to 35 weekly units for women.

“The results show that the current group of over 50s may be carrying on levels of higher consumption, developed in their younger years, in later life,” the researchers concluded.