Northern Ireland news

'Conservative' estimates suggest alcohol misuse in the over 50s costing health service £125m a year

Between 2007-17 in Northern Ireland, alcohol-related deaths have almost doubled in the age categories 55-64, 65-74 and 75+, while remaining relatively static in younger age groups

ALCOHOL misuse among people over 50 is costing Northern Ireland health service an estimated £125 million a year, according to new research.

The Queen’s University Belfast report was commissioned by the advice and support programme Drink Wise Age Well and is published today.

Among the findings are an increase of 70 per cent in alcohol-related deaths in Northern Ireland since 2001 - the highest since records began.

The increase is "particularly stark" in older age groups with the largest number of deaths occurring among those aged between 45 and 54 years, closely followed by those aged 55-64 years.

Professor Ciaran O'Neill from Queen's University Belfast said its estimates are "conservative".

"The issue of alcohol misuse has received increased attention in recent months arising in part from the publication of mortality statistics showing a sharp rise in alcohol related deaths," he said.

"This report highlights the significant burden to the health service of managing alcohol misuse-related morbidity.

"Our estimate of £125 million per year is conservative but serves to underscore the magnitude of the problem.

"The scale of the issue suggest there is a need to consider public health measures such as the adoption of minimum unit pricing among broader public health measures and the provision of support services to those seeking to quit drinking."

The report coincides with the publication of `Calling Time for Change,' a charter for politicians and policy makers about how to reduce alcohol harm among people over 50, co-designed with people and families affected by alcohol problems and the `Drink Wise, Age Well' programme.

Between 2007-17 in Northern Ireland, alcohol-related deaths have almost doubled in the age categories 55-64, 65-74 and 75+, while remaining relatively static in younger age groups.

A 2018 study by Public Health England found for every £1 invested in alcohol treatment services there is a social return of £3.

Adrian Loughrey of `Drink Wise, Age Well' said the financial cost is only part of the devastation caused.

"The report reveals the significant health costs of alcohol misuse in Northern Ireland today," he said.

"The costs are more than financial - it can devastate families and communities and stop people having an active and healthy later life.

"We believe that older adults can make positive changes to their alcohol use and it is never too late for this to happen.

"But we need to ensure services are designed in a way that feels welcoming to people over 50. At the moment we're only reaching a fraction of the people who could use some support."

Recommendations include:

 

* A dedicated service to respond to the needs of an ageing population with alcohol problems

* Better collaboration between service providers

* Supporting people through life events which often triggers alcohol misuse e.g. retirement, bereavement

* Greater support of community-based services to tackle loneliness and support recovery

* Government action on how drinking culture is enabled by policy and legislation

Drink Wise, Age Well advice and guidance at www.drinkwiseagewell.org.uk including via web chat 10am - 4pm and 6pm - 9pm Monday to Friday; 11am - 4pm weekends.

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