Warning over soaring drink and drug misuse among over-50s

Tom Powell
More than half a million adults aged 55 to 74 were admitted to English hospitals for alcohol-related issues in 2015/16: AFP/Getty Images

Drink and drug misuse among the over 50s is a "rapidly growing problem", scientists have warned.

Experts said urgent action is needed to tackle the rising abuse of alcohol, prescription drugs and cannabis among baby boomers.

It comes after figures showed more than half a million adults aged 55 to 74 were admitted to English hospitals with alcohol-related injuries, diseases or conditions in 2015/16 – more than any other age group.

The report, published in the British Medical Journal, argues there is a "strong upward trend for episodic heavy drinking" among the age group. One concern is the "increasing proportion" of women drinking in later life.

In particular, the researchers raise concerns about women whose drinking is prompted by retirement, bereavement, change in home situation, infrequent contact with family and friends, and social isolation.

The experts said drinking is the most common substance misuse and the under-detection of alcohol problems is of "immediate concern".

"Alcohol misuse in the older population may increase further as baby boomers get older because of their more liberal views towards, and higher use of, alcohol," wrote Rahul Rao of the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and Ann Roche of Flinders University in Australia.

They added: "A lack of sound alcohol screening to detect risky drinking may result in a greater need for treatment, longer duration of treatment, heavier use of ambulance services, and higher rates of hospital admission."

"Clinicians will need improved knowledge and skills in assessing and treating older people at risk of misuse of opiate prescription drugs, cannabis, and, increasingly, gabapentinoid drugs used to treat neuropathic pain and anxiety."

They concluded: "The clinical complexity of older adults with substance misuse demands new solutions to a rapidly growing problem.

"So far, there has been little sign of a co-ordinated international approach to integrated care."

Katherine Brown, director of the Institute of Alcohol Studies, said: "The worrying rise in alcohol problems amongst baby boomers comes as no surprise.

"This is the first generation in living memory that has had easy access to cheap alcohol in shops and supermarkets and now we are seeing the consequences in later life."

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