Change at all ages

Julie Breslin, Drink Wise, Age Well | November 2018 | 7 minutes

Drink Wise, Age Well provide information on alcohol and getting older to allow you to make informed choices about your alcohol use. Drink Wise, Age Well also supports health and social care providers and community organisations to recognise and respond to risky drinking in people aged over 50. Here, they share their latest campaign for change.

Here at Drink Wise, Age Well we are excited to see that the theme for Alcohol Awareness Week 2018 is ‘Change’, not least because it is wonderful when great minds think alike!

For the past six months our Drink Wise, Age Well volunteers have come together to form ‘Calling Time for Change’ advocacy groups across our five UK sites. Motivated by the publication of our report, Calling Time: Addressing ageism and age discrimination in alcohol policy, practice and research, the groups want to see a much stronger commitment to reducing the barriers and discrimination that older adults can face when seeking alcohol treatment and support.

It is estimated that only 16% of 65-74 year olds and 12% of those aged over 75 who are alcohol dependent are receiving alcohol treatment compared to 26% of 45-54 year olds [1] Why? Our report finds that, for older adults seeking help for alcohol problems, the barriers can be even greater than they are for most people:

  • Three-quarters of alcohol rehabs in England have arbitrary age cut offs meaning an older adult is less likely to get the help they need
  • There is little mention of older adults in the current UK Alcohol Strategy, whereas younger people’s needs are distinctly recognised
  • A number of health and alcohol surveys have age cut-offs after sixty-five, implying that people in this age group do not experience problems with drinking.
  • There are some misconceptions and negative attitudes within treatment services and from alcohol practitioners that it is too late for older adults to change, though treatment data shows the opposite.

All of this means that older adults may be at risk of falling through the net. We need to see change, but this can only happen when solutions are presented.

One significant step has been the recent Alcohol Charter, supported by a number of organisations including Alcohol Change UK and Addaction. The Charter recommends that the upcoming UK Government Alcohol Strategy “address the needs of older alcohol drinkers by enforcing action against age inequalities in existing services and developing a range of specialist services to support older adults who drink.”

Often the best solutions for change comes from people who have been directly affected by alcohol use. In August this year the Calling Time for Change advocacy group members came together for training delivered by our policy partner International Longevity Centre-UK in Westminster. They explored how best to campaign and make change happen. By sharing their experiences with policy makers and practitioners they hope to shape strategy and services that understand and meet the needs of older adults.

About Drink Wise, Age Well

Drink Wise, Age Well is made up of five strategic partners, with Addaction the lead partner.

The Calling Time for Change groups will be hosting a number of events throughout November, including one in Westminster during Alcohol Awareness Week. Drink Wise, Age Well will also speak at the Alcohol Awareness Week All Party Parliamentary Group meeting, organised by Alcohol Change UK. Find out more.


[1] Note, based on estimates taken from:

Public Health England (2017). Adult Substance Misuse Statistics from the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System (NDTMS). 1st April 2016 to 31st March 2017. Available at:

NHS Digital. (2016). Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey: Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, England, 2014. Available at: