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Official figures published by Public Health England reveal drinking alcohol during the evening is now the 6th biggest cause of serious illness amongst the UK’s Baby Boomer generation.
For people aged in their 50s and 60s, alcoholism is the 6th most common cause of disability.
Back in 1990, illness caused by excessive drinking was the 16th most common cause of disability for people aged between 50 and 70.
Alcohol-related illness is only surpassed by smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high cholesterol in terms of the number of people affected.
Although people are living longer, these additional years are being lived in poor health for many due to alcohol dependency.
Illnesses caused by excessive alcohol consumption include heart disease, liver problems, cancer and alcohol-induced dementia.
Many of these people affected are relatively wealthy middle-class. Experts say there exists a culture of evening wine drinking amongst the UK’s middle class, and it’s this culture that’s causing this problem.
Dr Tony Rao said: ‘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’.
‘That has now transplanted itself into later life.’
Dr Tony Rao says many of these people in their 50s and 60s grew up when our pub culture was still strong, and this pub culture has been transplanted into the home.
However, people tend to drink alcoholic beverages much quicker at home compared to pubs.
Dr Tony Rao also said that ordering bottles of wine from the Internet has also made alcohol much more available, and this is also contributing to the problem.
Another problem is that it’s now largely socially acceptable to drink alcohol at home, which wasn’t always the case in the past.
Many people who drink at home simply do not track how much they drink. They often measure what they drink by the bottle, rather than the glass, and many people will not stop drinking until they’ve finished drinking an entire bottle of wine.
Another issue is education. Many people are simply unaware what a unit of alcohol is. Thus, many people are unaware that it’s unhealthy to drink more than two units of alcohol per day.
Dr Rao added that loneliness, boredom and disposable income is also a factor.
During 2015/2016, nearly half of hospital admissions for alcohol-related issues were for people aged between 55 to 74.
Alcohol-related dementia is also on the rise for people aged over 50. This illness is also known as Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome.
Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome causes permanent brain damage. This syndrome prevents the brain from forming new memories.
Those who suffer from Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome have complex care needs.
Often, the early signs of Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome are shrugged off, or the sufferer may believe they are simply having a bad day or experiencing a headache.
Dr Rao said: ‘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. ‘
‘We can no longer regard alcohol as a harmless social lubricant, particularly in older people of the baby boomer generation. ‘
These figures help dispels the myth that alcohol harm is something that only really affects teenagers and young people.
One potential solution to this problem would be to introduce minimum alcohol-unit pricing. This policy is soon to be implemented across Scotland later this year.
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