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Baby boomers overtake young people as the country’s problem drinkers

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Baby boomers overtake young people as the country’s problem drinkers, as NHS figures reveal a surge in alcohol-related mental disorders among the middle-aged

  • Mental health issues linked to alcohol up 20% for middle-aged in last five years
  • Among those aged 15-29, those admitted for the same issues are down 7% 
  • Experts say figures highlight a growing generational gap in attitudes to alcohol 
  • Younger people are drinking far less, whereas it is still central to their parents

Baby boomers are on course to overtake young people as the country’s problem drinkers, NHS statistics suggest.

Hospital admissions for mental disorders linked to alcohol have surged by a fifth among the middle-aged in the past five years, according to figures compiled by NHS Digital.

There has been a 21 per cent increase in the number of over-50s admitted for addiction, memory loss and dementia linked to drinking since 2013/14.

Among younger groups – those aged 15 to 49 – admissions have fallen by 7 per cent in the same period.

Experts say the figures highlight a growing generational gap in attitudes to alcohol.

Hospital admissions for mental disorders linked to alcohol have surged by a fifth among the middle-aged in the past five years, according to figures compiled by NHS Digital (stock image)

Hospital admissions for mental disorders linked to alcohol have surged by a fifth among the middle-aged in the past five years, according to figures compiled by NHS Digital (stock image)

Younger people are drinking far less than they did in the past, but alcohol is still a central part of the lives of their parents’ generation.

The figures, analysed by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, show that 30,642 over-50s were admitted to hospital for mental and behavioural disorders linked to alcohol in 2018/19, up from 25,288 five years previously.

For those aged 15 to 49 there were 36,593 admissions last year, down from 39,512 in 2013/14.

Dr Tony Rao, of the addictions faculty at the royal college, who assessed the figures, said: ‘Younger people are drinking less and have a better understanding of their health. 

‘Baby boomers are drinking more than previous generations did, but also seem to not be aware of the health impacts of that drinking.

‘It’s a manifestation of the drinking culture that people were brought up in during the 1950s, 60s and 70s, which many people are still living with. 

‘That level of drinking is detrimental in older age when people’s bodies can’t get rid of the alcohol as quickly.’

Dr Rao said the figures – which apply only to the most problematic drinkers – represent ‘only the tip of the iceberg’. 

He pointed to a research paper he is due to publish shortly in the Advances In Dual Diagnosis journal, in which a study of 190 over-65s revealed 22 per cent admitted binge drinking. 

‘People do not expect binge-drinking in older people,’ Dr Rao said. ‘It is something that has gone completely undetected.’

Younger people are drinking far less than they did in the past, but alcohol is still a central part of the lives of their parents' generation (stock image)

Younger people are drinking far less than they did in the past, but alcohol is still a central part of the lives of their parents’ generation (stock image)

While teenagers used to be considered Britain’s biggest drinkers, experts today are more worried about middle-aged, middle-class people – particularly women – who order wine from supermarkets and drink at home.

Katherine Severi, of the Institute of Alcohol Studies, said: ‘It is clear from the figures that the negative effects of drinking are a growing problem for middle-aged and older people across the country.

‘In addition to increases in cancers and strokes, mental disorders related to alcohol are another area where the impact of older people’s drinking on their health is getting too strong to ignore.’

She pointed to figures published in Scotland last week which showed the adoption of minimum unit pricing – a move shunned in England – has successfully reduced drinking and called on Westminster to consider the policy.

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