Alcohol Harm Later in Life: The Baby Boomers
Across the globe, the baby boomer generation is starting to experience rising alcohol harm as they grow older.
Baby boomers are the demographic cohort most often defined as those individuals born between 1946 and 1964.
For instance, in the United Kingdom (UK) the alcohol burden on older people is rising:
- Baby boomers have caused a 60% increase in alcohol-related hospital admissions in a decade.
- Men and women aged 55 to 64 are the most likely to consume more than 14 units of alcohol per week. Four in ten men and one in five women this age exceed 14 units of alcohol a week.
One of the greatest social influences on baby boomers is evident in their alcohol use behavior – which had been shaped during teenage years when advertising for alcohol and tobacco was pervasive. Baby boomers today are between the ages of 50 to 70, and evidence shows that their adopted alcohol consumption behavior threatens to cause them great harm towards the end of their lives.
The trend is not limited to the UK. Globally, the influence of alcohol over the life-course of this generation is now starting to show its long-term negative effects. Some reported evidence across the world about this harmful trend is as follows:
- The proportion of high-risk alcohol users aged over 50 — those who consume 11 or more standard alcoholic drinks on a single occasion at least once a month — increased from 2.1% to 3.1% between 2004 and 2016.
- High risk alcohol users — those who consume between five and 10 standard alcoholic drinks on a single occasion at least once a month — increased from 13.4% to 13.5%.
In New Zealand:
- Up to 40% of older adults are hazardous alcohol users.
In Northern Ireland:
- The largest number in alcohol-related deaths in 2017 was among those aged 45-54, closely followed by those aged 55-64.
- Alcohol problems among older people (over 50 years of age) are costing the health service £125 million per year.
- More than 355,500 older people over 65 years of age suffer from alcohol harm.
- More than 34% of men and about 18% of women between the ages of 65 and 79 abuse alcohol.
In the United States of America (USA):
- 40% of Americans over 65 use alcohol.
- The number of people over 50 with substance use disorders – including alcohol and other drug use disorders – is expected to increase from 2.8 million to 5.7 million by 2020.
Increased alcohol harm with old age
Scientific evidence shows that alcohol harm increases with old age. As a report by the IOGT-NTO in Sweden explains, this is due to the increased sensitivity of people to alcohol in old age. The harm is aggravated with the use of certain prescription drugs.
A recent study found that among older people who are at-risk alcohol users, the majority take prescribed medications that adversely interact with alcohol or have reduced efficacy when consumed alongside alcohol.
What we’ve found is that when people mix these medications with alcohol, there’s potential for a whole range of serious side-effects. For example, alcohol can reduce the effectiveness of some medications and that could lead to psychiatric symptoms, stomach ulcers or cardiovascular events.
And in some cases it can be fatal,” said Dr Stephen Bright, Lead Researcher of the study from ECU’s School of Medical and Health Sciences, as per, News GP.
Widespread awareness about the increased sensitivity of older people towards alcohol and how alcohol interacts with medications is urgently needed among medical care practitioners, older people and their carers.