Advanced Care Research Centre

Over 50 and over your weekly units? Talking about alcohol in later life.

First in a video series first published by our colleagues at ARC NENC

This article was first published on this link. It was developed by colleagues with ARC-NENC - Applied Research Collaborators - North East and North Cumbria and features here with their permission:


Dr Beth Bareham, Research Associate from Newcastle University, speaks to Kate Bowman, content producer for the Later Life Audio and Radio Cooperative (LLARC) in the first of a series of video conversations about alcohol and older people. 

Alcohol is related to over 60 health conditions, including high blood pressure, liver disease, depression, and many types of cancer. Older people aged 50-years or over experience the most alcohol related harm in the UK and in many other countries.

This discussion introduces the topic of alcohol in later life. It explores alcohol related policy, research, and practice for older people including the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health and drinking behaviour among older adults.

Dr Bareham said: “When we think about alcohol and harmful drinking, we often think about the younger age group and binge drinking. However, the age group that experiences the most alcohol-related harm in the UK and in lots of other countries is the older age group, so the over fifties.

“The highest rates of hospitalisations and deaths are amongst the older age group in the UK, and there’s a number of reasons for this. As we get older, our tolerance to alcohol decreases, and older adults are also more likely to take medications and have medical conditions that can be harmful when combined with alcohol. These issues mean that levels of drinking that might have been safe to us earlier in our lives can actually become harmful as we get older.

“Also, when we’re thinking about our most recent generation of older drinkers, we have the ‘Baby Boomers’ who we know tend to have more liberal views about alcohol than we’ve seen with previous generations of older adults, so they’re more likely to be drinking at harmful levels.”

Kate Bowman, from the Later Life Audio and Radio Cooperative, said: “The fact that this research could translate into improved public health messaging and better services for older adults, is really positive to know.

“I think a lot of people do understand that 14 units a week is okay, and to try and have two or three days of no alcohol each week, but what Beth highlights is that when you’re ageing and your physiology is changing, then actually you might be better maybe saying to yourself as an older person that you might want to go a bit further than that and drink a lot less.”

Watch the conversation 

This video was produced by Dr Jenny Liddle and Dr Nav Aujla, who are Research Fellows from the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) North East and North Cumbria (NENC) Multimorbidity, Ageing and Frailty theme, and filming was supported by Newcastle University.

Dr Beth Bareham

Dr Beth Bareham is post-doctoral researcher with a focus upon late-life alcohol use. Her work aims to understand and support older people’s alcohol-related decisions, with view of addressing alcohol-related harm in the older population. She completed her doctorate in Public Health at Newcastle University in 2019, which looked to identify health and psychosocial factors shaping late life drinking.

She has a background in health psychology, and also draws upon social theory in her work. She also spent three months working as an embedded researcher with Drink Wise Age Well – a Glagow-based programme at the forefront of prevention and treatment services to address alcohol-related harm amongst the older population.

She is currently working on a project for the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) North East and North Cumbria (NENC), looking to understand better the lived experience of older people who have co-occurring alcohol and mental health problems, and think about what holistic and integrated and tailored support for older adults with these co-occurring conditions might look like.

You can follow Dr Beth Bareham on Twitter @BKBareham

View Dr Beth Bareham’s Research Profile

Find out more about our Multimorbidity, ageing and frailty theme.