Alcohol and the over-50s

June 2015 - January 2020

Live project


Research into the drinking habits of people over 50-years-of-age has found that attitudes towards alcohol and ageing could be putting this group at increased risk of harm.

A UK-wide team of researchers from the University of Bedfordshire, Glasgow Caledonian University, Glyndwr University Wales and Queens University Belfast, found hidden harm among the over 50s, poor use of available services, little knowledge of safe drinking levels, and stigma.

The survey into the drinking behaviours of more than 16,700 people across the UK found that a sense of shame might prevent older drinkers from asking for help to reduce their alcohol use. One in four respondents said they would not know where to go for help, nor would they tell anyone if they needed it.

More than 80 per cent of those surveyed, who were at increasing risk from alcohol (men who regularly drink more than 3-4 units a day, or women who regularly drink more than 2-3 units per day) had never been asked about their drinking by someone who might be able to help, such as relatives, friends, doctors or other health workers.
In Scotland, specifically, of the respondents who drank, 67 per cent said they had binged in the previous 12 months, and 35 per cent said they consume more than five units on a typical drinking day. However, those in the Scotland study areas were three times less likely to have driven within an hour of drinking alcohol in the last 12 months than the rest of the UK areas.
Across the UK, those taking part in the survey who drank more than they used to gave age-related reasons for doing so. This included retirement, bereavement, loss of sense of purpose, fewer opportunities to socialise, and finances.
Three-quarters were unable to correctly identify recommended drinking levels, with more than half of respondents stating they didn’t feel fully confident about keeping track of alcohol units, suggesting they are unaware of the levels at which they are drinking and increasing their chances of harm.


The survey is part of Drink Wise, Age Well, the biggest ever study of its kind into the drinking behaviours of the over 50s, which aims to tackle stigma by raising awareness and ensuring appropriate help is available. The programme will be delivered over seven years, led by Addaction and Addaction Northern Ireland, alongside the Royal Voluntary Service, International Longevity Centre UK and Drug and Alcohol Charities Wales. The programme will be evaluated by an academic team led by the University of Bedfordshire’s Substance Misuse and Ageing Research Team (SMART).

Staff Involved

  • Professor Lawrie Elliott

  • Dr Carol Emslie