Staying younger is harder on the drink


Older person celebrating life

What's the secret to staying younger for longer? If you don't rethink your alcohol consumption then the benefits of healthy habits, such as eating healthier foods, exercising and keeping the brain stimulated, could be lost.

When we think of harmful drinking, rarely do we think about people above the age of 50. However recent figures from the National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) show that while young people are more likely to abstain from alcohol than any other time since 2001, people aged 50 years and over are engaging in increasingly risky drinking.

High risk drinking among older Australians is on the rise

The NDSHS refers to very high risk alcohol consumption as drinking 11 or more standard drinks on one occasion at least monthly, with this high risk behaviour on the rise in people aged 50-59 nationally. In NSW, the latest Population Health Survey found that older people in the state are now more likely to drink every day than younger people, increasing their lifetime risk of harm.

According to figures from the NSW Centre for Epidemiology and Evidence, alcohol was responsible for the deaths (disease or injury) of 1,530 people aged 50 and over, compared with 262 for those under 50, in the year between 2015 and 2016.

Why the increase?

Some studies suggest that while people drink for a variety of reasons, there is a link between increased alcohol use and life changes, like entering retirement. As people go through changes to their daily routine and social activity, or they experience events such as the death of a loved one, social isolation, sleep disturbances or mental health problems, they may find themselves relying on alcohol or other drugs to cope.

Although we can't pinpoint exactly why, reports by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, the National Drug Research Institute and NCETA, show risky drinking among older Australians has been on the rise significantly since 2004 and could be related to those big life changes.

The time to act is now

The World Health Organization has said that harmful drinking is a contributor to dementia and early cognitive decline, which includes issues with memory, thinking, judgement and speech. Older people also often have complex health issues or take medications which means that any level of alcohol consumption can pose a range of other serious health risks.

The Australian Medical Association, suggest that general practitioners (GPs) treat alcohol addiction as they would a serious illness and encourage GPs and Doctors to talk with their older patients about their alcohol use so they can incorporate preventive care.

If you're not sure if your drinking is a problem have a chat with your GP or use our online confidential Alcohol Risk Assessment Tool to identify if you're at risk.

Getting active

It's not all doom and gloom - engaging in regular social activity, exercise, eating healthy, mental stimulation and limiting alcohol intake, reduces the risk of falls, injuries and chronic disease.

Where isolation and access to healthy activity may be a barrier, there are some great websites and services that can help people find programs in their area. The NSW Active and Healthy website assists older people and health professionals to find physical activities and fall prevention programs across NSW - there are over 1,000 programs listed.

Getting help to reduce alcohol

The Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol say that, "For healthy men and women, drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury".

The guidelines also state that older people need to take special care, specifically because alcohol negatively impacts those who are on medications and have physical health problems.

It is important to note that drink serving sizes are often more than one standard drink – National Health and Medical Research Council

Check out our interactive Standard Drink Calculator for measurements.

Get Healthy is a free phone-based service providing personal health coaching to people who need support to reduce alcohol consumption. The program offers up to 10 coaching calls to support people to achieve a healthy weight, eat healthier, increase levels of activity and reduce alcohol consumption by making small simple changes.

The NSW Get Healthy Service is available Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm. To enrol call 1300 806 258 or register online at

For free and confidential advice 24/7 call Family Drug Support on 1300 368 186 or Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) on 1800 250 015. Counsellors are available to provide information, referrals, crisis counselling and support. Or start a Web Chat with an ADIS counsellor online Monday to Friday, 8.30am – 5pm. ADIS can also provide up-to-date information about service availability in your area during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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