Concerns over rise of substance misuse in “baby boomers”

Posted on: 23rd August 2017

A rise in alcohol and drug misuse among the over 50s (commonly known as "baby boomers") is causing concern, warn experts.

Researchers at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and Flinders University in Australia, say the number of people aged over 50 experiencing problems from substance misuse is growing rapidly, with the numbers receiving treatment expected to treble in the United States and double in Europe by 2020.

Commenting on the research, which appeared in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), Vanessa Hebditch, the British Liver Trust Director of Communications and Policy said,

“Urgent action is needed to tackle drink and drug misuse among baby boomers – this research adds to the growing body of data in the UK suggesting that alcohol and other substance misuse is increasing among those in their mid-50s and older.

The over 50s have seen a time when filling up your supermarket trolley with wine and drinking at home has become normalised so that is part of our culture and this all too easily becomes habit forming. Alcohol has become increasingly acceptable and affordable.

The British Liver Trust advises that one easy step that people can take is to make sure that they have two –three consecutive days off every week from drinking – this not only reduces overall units but stops dependency.

However, if we are to turn around the massive increases in liver disease that we are seeing as a result of drinking too much we also need Government measures which tackle the affordability, availability and promotion of alcohol.”

The research found that in both the UK and Australia, risky drinking is declining, except among people aged 50 years and older, they explain. There is also a strong upward trend for episodic heavy drinking in this age group.

With alcohol being the most common substance of misuse among older people, under-detection of alcohol problems is of immediate concern - and may increase further as baby boomers get older because of their more liberal views towards, and higher use of, alcohol, they write.

 A lack of sound alcohol screening to detect risky drinking may result in a greater need for treatment, longer duration of treatment, heavier use of ambulance services, and higher rates of hospital admission.

Research suggests that treatment programmes adapted for older people with substance misuse were associated with better outcomes than those aimed at all age groups.

However, the authors point out that clinicians will need improved knowledge and skills in assessing and treating older people at risk of substance misuse.

"There remains an urgent need for better drug treatments for older people with substance misuse, more widespread training, and above all a stronger evidence base for both prevention and treatment," they write.

"The clinical complexity of older adults with substance misuse demands new solutions to a rapidly growing problem. So far, there has been little sign of a coordinated international approach to integrated care," they conclude.

Read the full article here

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