In 2014, Drinkaware undertook a survey of UK adults to provide a picture of drinking behaviour. The research was based on a nationally representative sample of 2,294 UK adults aged 18-75. New standardised research tools were used in addition to the online and face-to-face surveys used in previous years.
The report findings estimate that around 3.4 million middle aged people are regularly drinking above the lower risk limits despite many recognising the potential health harms. Unlike young adults (aged 18-24) who tend to drink large amounts on one or two occasions a week, middle aged drinkers (aged 45-64) are more likely to spread their drinking across the week. Two-thirds of increasing or higher risk middle aged drinkers consume four or more times a week.
According to the report, this group of middle aged frequent drinkers is drinking the equivalent of almost three pints of 4% ABV lager five times a week for men or almost three standard 175ml glasses of 13% ABV wine five times a week for women. 5% of all drinkers aged 45-64 get drunk every time or most of the time they drink compared to 30% of all 18-24 year old drinkers. 48% of 45-64 year olds who drink to increasing or higher risk levels believe that moderate drinking is good for their health and the same proportion believe they are unlikely to have increased health problems in later life if they continue to drink at their current level.
When asked to identify the main types of health harms related to alcohol, most of the 45-64 and 18- 24 year olds surveyed say they associate drinking with liver disease but many struggle to identify other alcohol related health conditions: liver disease was identified by 77% of 45-64 year olds and 57% of 18- 24 year olds; coronary heart disease by 20% of 45-64 year olds and 12% of 18-24 year olds; weight gain/ obesity by 15% of 45-64 year olds and 7% of 18-24 year olds; cancer by 8% of 45-64 year olds and 7% of 18-24 year olds 45-64 year old drinkers appear reluctant to change their drinking behaviour despite many of them acknowledging that alcohol can harm health. 59% say they don’t want guidance on how to moderate their drinking compared with 37% of 18- 24 year olds who drink. However, when asked, 17% of 45-64 year old drinkers said they had a feeling of guilt or remorse after drinking and 11% said they failed to do what was normally expected of them because of their drinking.
The report also identifies five key adult population drinking ‘segments’ as: 1. Comfortable social drinkers; 2. Controlled home drinkers; 3. Risky social and coping drinkers; 4. Self-contained moderate drinkers; 5. Risky career drinkers. Drinkaware says it is most interested in groups 3 and 5 as ‘those that exhibit the most risky drinking behaviours’. Drinkaware says as well as work to target younger drinkers, where some positive shifts are apparent, it also needs to work with ‘older age groups among whom there appears to be a growing trend towards more frequent drinking above the low risk limits’.
Elaine Hindal, Chief Executive of alcohol education charity Drinkaware commented “In contrast to public perceptions that young adults are the more risky drinkers in the UK, in fact over the course of the week, their parents’ generation are drinking more. Our research shows that 45-64 year olds could potentially be sleepwalking into long term health problems as a result of their drinking patterns.