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Alcohol use across retirement: a qualitative study of drinking in later life

Date: March 2016
Category: Report
Author: Fiona Edgar, Debbie Nicholson, Tim Duffy, Pete Seaman, Karen Bell and Mary Gilhooly

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This report presents the results of a qualitative exploration of older people’s drinking and the factors which influence their use of alcohol. In doing so, it locates alcohol use within the broader patterns, networks and routines that make up older people’s lives and suggests new ways of approaching alcohol use amongst older people.

Key findings include:

Retirement is one of many events in a person’s life which can bring a change of routine, including routines and practices around alcohol.

Processes and circumstances associated with ageing and retiring can present sudden broken routines that can be problematic in terms of periods of increased risk of social isolation and/or increased alcohol consumption, particularly for previous heavy drinkers.

Whilst broken routines can be associated with retirement they are broader than this and include things like taking on a caring role, bereavement and loss of social networks.

Moderate drinking amongst retired people can contribute to their engagement with ‘active’ and ‘healthy’ ageing. For this reason, alcohol need not be viewed simply as a hurdle to health and wellbeing.

The public health message that ageing brings increased risks associated with alcohol was being received by those in our sample.

Healthy ageing policies can learn from the active contribution older people make in creating healthy routines, in identifying for themselves the risks associated with the life-stage in relation to alcohol and help support these adaptations.

Services should ensure the issue of older people’s drinking is not missed. The participants in our sample were not ‘addiction’ clients so would need to receive advice from other sources. However, the needs of older people, particularly around ensuring social connections and interaction, are no different from adults more generally and care should be taken not to ‘ghettoise’ messages and services.