Sober October: Why do older people drink alcohol?

Every year, tens of thousands of people take part in Sober October. The event encourages us to take a break from alcohol and enjoy sobriety, as part of a large effort to refresh our relationship with the world’s oldest and most commonly used recreational drug. Macmillan Cancer Support leads last orders to quit alcohol for the rest of the month: taking a break from drinking is good for your health and wealth. Yet, alcohol consumption has been steadily increasing in the over-fifties. We explore why more older people are drinking harmful amounts of alcohol.

When it comes to thinking about harmful levels of drinking, we might get images of teenagers and young adults drinking to excess – binge drinking at parties, pubs or festivals. But did you know that it is in fact people aged 50 and over who are most likely to be drinking at unsafe levels that exceed the recommended alcohol drinking guidelines? So, the burning question next on our lips is: why do older people drink alcohol?

Many older adults are at increased risk of isolation, and drinking is often seen as a way of helping to socialise. Others are juggling stressful lives, using alcohol as a way to kick back and blow off steam. Some simply like the way drinking makes them feel. However, alcohol also affects us differently as we age. The older we are, the harder our body has to work to process and eliminate alcohol – it’s why drinking much smaller amounts are much more likely to result in worse hangovers as we get older. Unfortunately, the harmful effects of alcohol on our health are also amplified as we age.

Increased alcohol consumption is linked to poorer physical and mental health outcomes. Many find that taking a brief break from drinking resets tolerance and psychological dependence for a healthier relationship with alcohol, one based on moderation rather than excess. With this in mind, many join together to do just that in the tenth month of the year – choosing sobriety over intoxication to reap health and wealth benefits during Autumn’s longest month. To mark Sober October, which raises money for the charity Macmillan Cancer Support,  we’re helping to raise awareness about increasing levels of excessive alcohol consumption in older adults. Drink up the facts on this topic, watch our animation below brimming with research about alcohol and older adults.

Why do older people drink alcohol?

Drink up the research by the Substance Misuse and Ageing Research Team (SMART) at the University of Bedfordshire, who partnered with the Drink Wise, Age Well programme to bring awareness to older adults on the recent increase in alcohol abuse by people over fifty.