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Before lockdown, Carole, 55, would go weeks without drinking before embarking on days of binging on wine. Since March, however, she has been drinking four bottles every day.
“I haven’t seen anyone since March as I’m not in anybody’s bubble,” she said. “I’ve always been a drinker but this is desperation now. I’m just going out of my mind from being on my own.”
This is a similar story for many others across the UK, according to a survey by the alcohol charity We Are With You that suggests a rise in high-risk alcohol consumption among over-50s amid restrictions imposed to control the spread of coronavirus.
Nearly one in four (24%) are believed to be high risk or possibly dependent, the Opinion Matters study of more than 1,150 people in the age group indicates. That is up from 17% in 2016.
It also found that about 51% of those above 50 may be consuming alcohol at a level that could damage their health, with more than 4 million having in excess of four drinks in one sitting at least once a week.
Across the entire UK population, a study of more than 27,000 people by University of Glasgow, suggests a rise in people drinking more than six drinks in a single sitting at least once a week from 10.8% in 2017-19 to 16.2% during lockdown – with a rise in all age groups aside from those below 25.
“I’m used to being alone, but I could go a few days or even weeks without drinking,” Carole, an unemployed editor from Huddersfield, said. “Now I’m drinking every day. My weight has ballooned and I’m very depressed with everything. Drinking blots out sadness at the time; not being able to visit my siblings has been a terrible blow.”
Frustrated at not being able to access in-person alcohol services, she receives a monthly phone call from a charity but it is not enough to help her kick the habit. “I always drank to excess but I never needed a drink. Now I wake up needing a drink,” she said.
Lockdown has been a similar story for Damien, 53, a lecturer who lives just outside Rochdale. “I have definitely been drinking much more,” he said. “It just accumulated over a period of weeks and months. I’ve also been exercising less and eating more. I have friends who also went down similar rabbit holes.”
It was easy for him to spiral into a situation where most days it was almost a psychological expectation to have at least a bottle of wine, and perhaps a couple of bottles.
“It affects my mood so badly the next day, I just feel so low,” he added. “I know its best for my wellbeing not to drink but it’s just such a big thing culturally and I find it impossible to avoid.”
However, come the end of the summer, he began to question his lifestyle and choices, and with the help of his partner was able to reduce his alcohol consumption. “It took me several months to stop drinking in the week,” he said.
“When I’ve had time off drinking and feel good, there’s almost a trigger which requires a drink to celebrate; it’s made me more aware of my psychology.”
He began going to the gym and swimming again in September but his new routine was disrupted after the announcement of the second lockdown. He is now trying to get back in the habit of regularly running.
To help more older adults access support, We Are With You is launching an alcohol helpline for over-50s funded by the National Lottery. It comes after research by the Centre for Ageing Better found that unhealthy habits may have become more ingrained since lockdown began, with 32% of 50 to 70-year-olds estimated to be drinking more.
Analysis of official data by the Royal College of Psychiatrists has also found that the prevalence of people drinking at higher risk was at almost a fifth (19%) in June, up from 10.8% in February. It called for substantial investment in public health to prevent more lives from being “needlessly lost” to addiction following cuts to alcohol and drug services between 2013 and 2018.
Julie Breslin, head of the Drink Wise, Age Well programme at We Are With You, suggests that Covid has made functional alcohol dependence more possible due to people working at home en masse.
“Nearly 80% of over-50s we work with drink at home alone, hidden from view,” she said. “It’s clear from these findings that the necessary coronavirus restrictions have exacerbated these issues whilst having a big impact on older adult’s mental health.
“Many older adults are unable to see their loved ones or friends and are drinking more as a way to cope with increased loneliness, isolation and anxiety. As people age their bodies find it harder to process alcohol, so the number of people over 50 who are binge drinking at the current time is really alarming.”
Ian Hamilton, an expert in addiction and mental health from the University of York, said the findings correlated with recent research and that over-50s appeared to be at greatest risk of alcoholism amid the pandemic.
“The problem is where do they go for support,” he said. “Treatment was already pretty difficult to get into before Covid, but particularly for over-50s I’m not sure how willing they’ll be to engage in virtual groups, I suspect they’d prefer something more personal or tailor-made, if they can get it at all.”
*Names have been changed.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Binge drinking among over-50s rising amid pandemic, says UK charity | Society