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Alcohol in the home

William Haydock

When we think of the dangers of alcohol, if we have an image in our minds it’s probably not someone having dinner at home, or curled up on the sofa in front of a Sunday night costume drama.  But in Britain today, that’s how we do most of our drinking.  Home might be where the heart is, but it’s where the bottle is too.

There’s lots of reasons for this.  Partly, it’s a good news story about the rest of our lives.  In the early 20th century and before, pubs were, for many people (and particularly men), a home from home.  They were likely to be warmer, brighter and more comfortable than your own home, unless you were unusually wealthy.  Now, increased comfort and technology mean that the outside world has to have a pretty strong offer to beat the sofa.  We can stay in and watch films and TV or play games with people around the world in comfort.

But it’s not just about that comfort.  The gap between the price of drinks in the supermarket and the pub has increased at a time when lots of people feel under financial pressure.

So drinking at home is potentially cheaper, more convenient and more comfortable than going out.  But that doesn’t necessarily make it safer or healthier.  Lots of the negative health and social effects of alcohol that we’re discussing throughout this week aren’t hugely affected by where you have a drink; they’re more about your alcohol intake, regardless of whether that’s on a sofa or a dancefloor.

One particular group we sometimes forget about when we think about alcohol-related harm is older people.  Drinking too much just doesn’t feel like an issue for the retired or elderly.  And historically that was true; the oldest in our society drank the least.  But trends over the last few decades mean that of all the age groups, people aged 55-64 are likely to be drinking the most alcohol.

And even if we do see people drinking at an older age, it’s easy to argue that ‘they’ve earned it’ or it’s one of their few remaining pleasures.  Yet drinking alcohol still carries risks, and it’s the principle of Alcohol Awareness Week that everyone could benefit from reflecting on their own drinking.

What’s more, alcohol can actually carry higher risks for older people: your body is less able to process alcohol, meaning you’ll be working your body harder and you may get drunk more easily.  Alcohol is often implicated in falls, which can have serious consequences, particularly for older people.

So if we only think about public drinking – in bars and pubs, or even in parks or in town centres – then we’re missing a huge part of the picture.  As with all the aspects of drinking we’ll be talking about this week, I wouldn’t want to judge or single out any particular group of people as problematic; instead it’s a reminder that we could all potentially benefit from reflecting on our drinking.  It’s all too easy to think that it’s someone else’s drinking that’s a problem and miss the opportunities we have to make changes in our own lives.

If you want to know more about these trends amongst older people and the support available, Drink Wise Age Well have been doing great work around the country, and this blog by Colin Angus is a great introduction to why their work is so important.  

The services we have locally are open to all ages, and offer tailored support – you can find out more at www.publichealthdorset.org.uk/your-health/alcohol-and-other-drugs.aspx

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