Old habits die hard

The most recent data on drinking behaviour in the UK is a mixed bag. Whereas there have been large reductions in common measures of drinking patterns for those in the 16 to 24 age group, the 65 and over age group fares less well across all measures. As far as drinking frequency over the past week is concerned, the 16-24 age group showed a 23% reduction between 2005 and 2013 in both males and females. For those people aged 65 and over, there was only a 2% reduction for males and a 9% increase for females.

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For those drinking alcohol 5 days or more during the week, there was a reduction of 79% in males and 54% in females for the 16-24 age group. The corresponding reduction for the 65 and over age group was 8% in males and 5% in females.

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Lastly, for those 16-24 years olds drinking above daily limits on the heaviest drinking day, there was a 35% reduction for males and a 32% reduction for females between 2005 and 2013. Over the same time frame, there was an increase of 11% for males and 19% for women.

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So what are to make of all this new data? Well, for one thing, a cause for concern for the public health and clinical implications of older people now being less likely to change their drinking behaviour than younger people is now beyond reasonable doubt.

15 years ago, there were lone voices raising their head above the parapet, warning of a problems of a growing problems with alcohol misuse in older people. I do not think that we will be over the worst of it for at least another 20 years. Until then, there remains a need to develop both public health and clinical interventions to address a problem that will continue to put pressure on services. These are more likely to be health and social services than forensic services. As such, problems will continue to remain invisible to commissioners and the public.

The stable door may be closed, but the horse will run out of control if we continue to ignore a problem that is our collective responsibility to address.

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