Heavy drinking has become one of the biggest causes of severe illness among the baby boomer generation, official figures show.
Alcohol is now the sixth most common cause of disability among people in their 50s and 60s, up from 16th in 1990, data from Public Health England reveals.
People are living longer than before – but spending more of their retirement in poor health thanks to heart disease, liver disease, cancer and even alcohol-caused dementia.
Heavy drinking has become one of the biggest causes of severe illness among the baby boomer generation, official figures show
Dr Tony Rao, who highlighted the figures in the British Journal of Psychiatry, said a middle-class culture of drinking wine at home is driving the problem.
‘The baby boomers grew up in a post-war world where there were much more liberal attitudes to alcohol and less attention paid to health risks,’ he said last night.
‘That has now transplanted itself into later life.’
He said people used to do most of their drinking in pubs and bars, where they tended to buy one pint of beer or glass of wine at a time, which limited the speed at which people drank.
But now it is more socially acceptable to drink at home, often from bottles of wine ordered online from supermarkets and delivered to the door.
That means they do not track how much they drink, because they just continuously pour from the bottle into the glass.
Dr Rao, a consultant old age psychiatrist King’s College London, said: ‘Older people are much less aware of alcohol units and how much it is safe to drink.’
Alcohol is now the sixth most common cause of disability among people in their 50s (file)
With people suddenly finding themselves with more money as children fly the nest, they have more to spend on alcohol.
‘Loneliness, boredom and disposable income has meant home drinking has brought a lot of this on,’ Dr Rao added.
Heavy drinking has always been known to be linked to cancer, liver disease and heart problems, and nearly half of hospital admissions caused by drinking alcohol in 2015/16 were among those aged 55 to 74.
But Dr Rao is particularly concerned about the rising problem of alcohol-related dementia, which causes personality change and brain damage.
‘It slowly creeps up,’ he said. ‘People just think you are having a bad day but the changes are going on. It is much less noticeable than someone having a heart attack or losing their memory.
‘There is now increasing evidence to suggest that if you are on older person regularly drinking over three pints of beer or over half a bottle of wine a day for five years or more, you are at higher risk of developing problems with memory and the possibility of alcohol-related dementia.
‘If this addressed early enough, it is likely that there may be some improvement in brain function.’
Alcohol use is now the sixth biggest cause of ‘disability adjusted life years’ for people aged 50 to 69, according to the latest Public Health England data from 2013, falling behind smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high cholesterol. In 1990 it was 16th.
Dr Rao said: ‘We can no longer regard alcohol as a harmless social lubricant, particularly in older people of the baby boomer generation.’
Alcohol is now the sixth most common cause of disability among people in their 50s and 60s, up from 16th in 1990, data from Public Health England reveals
Katherine Brown, chief executive of the Institute of Alcohol Studies, said: ‘This report echoes recent data showing our substance misusing population is ageing.
‘It’s worrying because alcohol harm is often mistaken as being a problem for drunken teenagers on the streets.
‘However, we know most of the harm is done – and costs to the NHS are generated – behind closed doors.
‘The accessibility of cheap supermarket drink has had a huge impact on the rise in alcohol related health problems amongst baby boomers. Much more needs to be done to address the burden this places on our NHS and the families affected.
‘This is why a minimum unit price for alcohol is urgently needed in England.
‘This life saving measure will soon be in place in Scotland and there is no good reason why Westminster should not follow suit to tackle the devastating impact of cheap alcohol.’