Society’s 'Invisible Addicts'

Alcohol addiction increasing in elderlySo a group of experts from the Royal College of Psychiatrics term the growing number of older people in the UK who develop a substance abuse. According to their report one third of those who experience alcohol problems do so later on in life and often in response to challenging circumstances such as bereavement, retirement, or feelings of loneliness and boredom.


The group of experts thus recommend that safe drinking limits by older people be drastically cut as they warn that older drinkers are less able to process alcohol. The appeal for the government to lower the safe drinking limit for elderly to 1.5 units a day from the current 3 and 4 for women and men respectively coincide with the release of a similar Australian finding, that suggests that the number of elderly seeking treatment for opioid addiction is on the increase .

According to the experts from the Royal College of Psychiatrics the report addresses a common misconception within society, that alcohol and drug misuse is uncommon in older people. In their view this is an escalating problem but a hidden one, as most elderly drink within the home. According to Professor of Addiction Psychiatry Ilana Crome the problem is further compounded by the fact that symptoms of substance misuse in elderly is frequently discounted by GPs and other health care professionals who will need to be equipped with better screening tools and increased awareness about the issue in order to address the problem. However, not everyone has welcomed this initiative.

"I think people will be infuriated by this. It's described as a public health problem, it's actually a private health matter", says editor of Saga Magazine, Emma Soames who argues that drinking and eating are some of the few pleasures that remain for older people to enjoy and predicts that a recommended drinking limit of 1.5 is so low that most elderly will fail to take it seriously.

Increased alcohol consumption in older age is naturally a concern and it might be useful to look at some of the reasons why a growing proportion of our senior citizens turn to alcohol at this stage of their lives. Loneliness, boredom and depression are difficult emotions to cope with at the best of times, let alone during retirement where there are less distractions. Implementing routine GP screenings and issuing separate health warnings for above 65 year-olds, will undoubtedly serve to bring some much needed attention to this sensitive issue. However steps to stop this trend from escalating might have to tackle a different aspect of the problem such as the societal attitudes towards our  elderly and family values. Two of the basic human needs is to feel a sense of connection and worth. And in a part of the world where greater importance is given to the individual, rather than the group, without a change in our value system these issues might persist.

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