Older adults cut drinking by two thirds with Northern Ireland-based programme

11 April 2019

People who took part in the Drink Wise, Age Well programme in the Western Trust area cut the average amount of alcohol they drink on a typical day from 21 units to 7.

Older adults cut drinking by two thirds with Northern Ireland-based programme

At a follow up interview, six months after being discharged from the project, participants had maintained this reduction. Participants also reported reducing the number of drinking days in a month between initial assessment and discharge from the programme from 14 to 7.  

The National Lottery Community funded programme was first established in 2015 in response to 1increasing alcohol harm in the over 50s,  with initial research showing that older adults were facing particular challenges when trying to get help for alcohol problems.

The new data also shows how many of the programme participants struggled with isolation and loneliness, with 68% of people surveyed drinking mainly at home alone. The most common reason older adults in the Western Trust area gave for increasing their drinking was bereavement followed by relationship problems. Some also said they had always drunk heavily.

Adrian Loughrey, Locality Manager for Drink Wise, Age Well in the Western Trust area, said, “Our experience of delivering the programme over the past four years has shown that significant numbers of over 50s in Northern Ireland are drinking to harmful levels, but may be reluctant to get help due to stigma.

“We have been very successful in engaging with people through a range of health and well-being activities that help tackle loneliness and isolation. In addition we have worked hard to engage individuals and family members in one-to-one support by challenging the stigma associated with coming forward for help around alcohol issues.

“Our recent Health Festival event in Omagh was very well attended and we are running this again in the Foyle area in September.  We are also currently repeating the programme of social activities that were delivered across the project area earlier in the year. This allows people aged 50 and over to come together to do activities that they enjoy and give them a sense of purpose.’     

Drink Wise, Age Well is now into its final year of operation in Northern Ireland (until March 2020) but it is hoped that the most effective elements of the programme will carry on through being embedded in general alcohol services, or, where required, the development of age-specific services. The programme has also provided clear testimony to community empowerment, running a range of support groups and social activities for the over 50s that could become self-sustaining.

Adrian Loughrey added, “Alcohol use and harm is increasing in our older population and it is crucial that we have a targeted approach to this. Whilst ensuring that alcohol treatment and support is accessible to people of all ages, it is also important to explore the underlying reasons for drinking including isolation and life transitions. The holistic approach of our programme has allowed us to address the problem while working with people to build their own resilience and connections within their communities.”

For further information on Drink Wise, Age Well, visit www.drinkwiseagewell.org.uk

Figures for Drink Wise, Age Well in the Western Trust area for the 3.5 years to September 2018 show that the programme:

- Provided one-to-one support to 186 individuals, of whom 52% were female and 48 male. And supported a further 41 family members who were concerned about a loved one’s drinking.

- Supported 106 people at Mutual Aid Partnership (peer support) meetings

- Involved 2,812 people in resilience activities, including the successful social connectedness programme, well-being activities and events

- Reached 13,242 people with prevention and campaigning activities

1The United Kingdom is currently experiencing a generational shift in terms of alcohol use.  Harmful use of alcohol is declining across the whole population but increasing among older adults. In Northern Ireland, the most noticeable increases in alcohol consumption in recent years have been amongst those aged 60-75 https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/publications/adult-drinking-patterns-northernireland-

One unit of alcohol is the equivalent to one 25ml shot of spirits. There are 1.5 units of alcohol in a 125ml glass of wine and 2.2 units in a pint (568ml) of lower strength lager or beer.     

Case study

Roy, 68, the Foyle area

Roy is somewhat unusual in his role as a volunteer for Drink Wise, Age Well in the Western Trust area, in that he hasn’t drunk a drop of alcohol for 40 years.

But that doesn’t make his contribution any less important. As someone with a wealth of experience in running prevention campaigns and providing addiction counselling, Roy has a unique perspective on what’s available for over 50s with alcohol problems in Northern Ireland.

He says, “Drink Wise, Age Well has come along like a breath of fresh air, providing a safe space where people can talk about their drinking without fear of being judged.

“In Northern Ireland, you are taught to hide your problems. So, when someone does eventually open up about having an alcohol problem, they need help right then and there, not in eight weeks, which is about the average wait for an over 65 in the Provence.

 “For some reason health professionals tend to look down on volunteers, but Drink Wise, Age Well has shown that older adults with a lifetime of skills and experience, can step into the breach and provide valuable ‘first aid” for people in desperate need.”    

Most recently, Roy has been part of the Drink Wise, Age Well NI Charter for Change group, working to highlight the plight of older adults with alcohol problems and present some workable solutions.

He concludes, “I suffered a spell of deep depression and tried to hide it for so long. I want to help bring about change, so older people in Northern Ireland can be open about their drinking and get fast, fair, age-appropriate help.”  

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