Surprising as it may seem, heavy drinking among people who are older than 50 does not necessarily affect mainly the poor and the least successful ones. On the contrary, the largest category of middle-aged people affected by harmful drinking consists of successful and healthy-ageing individuals.
The new study, which was published in BMJ Open reports, suggests that people who are otherwise clear of bad habits – they don’t smoke, they exercise, they are not depressed and have a good social life- are more inclined to become heavy drinkers.
While it is not clear what causes that and whether or not these people are aware of the fact that they consume too much alcohol, the British researchers are warning people belonging to this category that drinking in excess can have very negative consequences on their health.
The authors of the study examined two collections of data from about 9,000 people who participated in the English Longitudinal Survey of Ageing (ELSA). They answered various questions regarding their habits, including diet, alcohol consumption, physical activity and signs of depression. Other questions referred to their religious beliefs, marital status, profession, income, social life and education.
It was revealed that men were more exposed to high-risk drinking when they were about 60 years old and tended to give up the habit in the next decades. Women, on the other hand, were more likely to be heavy drinkers when they were about 50 years of age, but not in the following decades.
The most interesting fact was not the age but the category of people. The researchers were surprised to find that people who were healthy, wealthy and well-educated were more exposed to excessive alcohol consumption.
Other causes, such as loneliness or depression, were ruled out because these people reported that they are generally happy and socially active. Nevertheless, men who were separated or lived alone were more prone to heavy drinking.
“Our findings suggest that harmful drinking in later life is more prevalent among people who exhibit a lifestyle associated with affluence and with a ‘successful’ ageing process. Harmful drinking may then be a hidden health and social problem in otherwise successful older people,” said the authors.
The oddest part is that the researchers are unable to come up with an explanation. The heavy drinking might be attributed to the fact that the information about the dangers of alcohol abuse is directed towards other categories of people. However, these people are well-educated and they should definitely know better.
Other experts explained that the tendency to drink more than they should stems from an entitlement issue they might have. Given that they are quite wealthy, they believe the harmful effects of alcohol abuse cannot affect them.
High risk drinking was characterized as more than 50 units of alcohol consumed every week by men and more than 35 units consumed by women. Thus, this adds up to 17-25 and 12-17 glasses of wine every week consumed by men and women, respectively, given that a glass of wine can comprise two or three units.
Health experts say that safe drinking should be limited to 2 drinks every day for men and one for women.
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