Young people usually get the blame for binge drinking, but Australian health experts say it’s their parents and grandparents who are abusing drugs and alcohol at an alarming rate.
In the UK and Australia, binge drinking is on the decline among all age groups — except those over the age of 40.
Researchers from the South London Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and Flinders University in Adelaide are calling for a coordinated global approach to boozing boomers.
“Alcohol misuse in the older population may increase further as baby boomers get older because of their more liberal views towards, and higher use of, alcohol,” the researchers wrote in the British Medical Journal.
However, scientists found baby boomers were not just hitting the bottle harder than their children.
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Australians over 50 also have higher rates of illicit drug use than younger people.
“In Australia, the largest percentage increase in drug misuse between 2013 and 2016 was among people aged 60 and over, with this age group mainly misusing prescription drugs,” they said.
Cannabis use among older people is also startlingly high.
“People over 50 have higher rates than younger age groups for both past year and lifetime illicit drug misuse, notably cannabis,” the researchers said.
Boomers’ drug use started in teenage years
Lead author Ann Roche, from the National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction at Flinders University, has previously found the overwhelming majority of cannabis users in this age group began using as teenagers and it continued into their older years.
Ms Roche said new education campaigns were needed to help older drug users.
The number of people over 50 receiving drug and alcohol treatment is expected to treble in the United States and double in Europe by 2020.
“A lack of alcohol screening to detect risky drinking may result in a greater need for treatment, heavier use of ambulance services and higher rates of hospital admission,” they said.
Researchers said drug and alcohol services would need to improve their knowledge and skill in assessing and treating older people misusing opioid drugs, cannabis, and drugs for pain and anxiety.
“The clinical complexity of older adults with substance misuse demands new solutions to a rapidly growing problem,” the authors said.
Public health challenges ‘will increase’
Steve Allsop from the National Drug Research Institute at Curtin University said alcohol and other drug-related problems among older Australians were critical public health challenges that would increase in coming years.
“The increase in the proportion of Australians over the age of 50, levels of alcohol and other drug consumption, and the particular risks for ageing Australians sees this issue impact on our drug specialist and our aged care services and across our community,” Professor Allsop said.
Terry Slevin from the Cancer Council’s occupational and environmental cancer risk committee said the link between alcohol and cancer risk remained under-recognised in the community.
Alcohol consumption is known to increase a person’s chances of developing cancer of the liver, mouth, bowel and breast.
“Evidence from Western Australia suggests campaigns to highlight this connection are effective in encouraging older drinkers to reconsider their consumption,” Dr Slevin said.