Teenage drinking aside, alcohol problems in the over fifties are fast becoming a major concern in Mid Ulster, according to one local charity.
Tipsa, which runs alcohol and drug programmes for people of all ages, has reported a 50% increase in middle-age drinkers who sought their help last year, when compared with 2012.
But the charity’s representatives told the MAIL the main worry about alcohol abuse in this age-group, is that the true extent of the problem is hidden behind closed doors, and it has been getting gradually worse over the past 10 years.
“In 2005 3% of females in the 60-75 age-group would have fallen into the classic definition of a binge drinker, three years later it had gone up to 12%.”
And while Tipsa were unable to provide more recent statistics, as they have yet to be approved, it said this is a continuing trend.
“The most targeted group for it is actually females over 50, but there is still a significant cohort of over 50 males who fall into that as well,” said Martin McCann, a project coordinator for Tipsa.
And he added: “It’s more visible [now] — the stats could have been massive for a good while — but it’s only now that we’re seeing it.
“People think the only major problem with alcohol is young people because generally they’re the most visible.
“Visibility is an issue — just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not happening — there’s probably that hidden aspect of it when it comes to older people.”
Eugene O’Goan, also a Tipsa project coordinator added: “There’s also a cultural acceptance of older people being drunk, we still have the moral outrage when we see teenagers drunk, but if we see somebody who’s over the age of 50 or maybe older, we just go, ‘ach well they’ve worked hard for it, they might as well enjoy themselves now’.
“It’s not looked upon or frowned upon in the same way [as teen drinking], but I would say the key thing is, as Martin says, it’s private.
And the effect this is having on older people’s health, the Tipsa coordinators said, is still unknown as there are many factors that have to be considered such as overall health, medication being taken and a person’s ability to break alcohol down.
But aside from the internal damage, they added that alcohol can also be an attributing factor in physical injuries some older people sustain.
“People make the assumption as people get older they are walking into things, and bumping into things... that their co-ordination is going — but they may just have had too many the night before,” Mr McCann said.
“Thankfully in the Northern Trust all the medical teams are now trained to actually ask older people if they have been drinking,” he went on, “Again, there was always just this assumption... that it’s not an older people’s problem.
“We do need to shift cultural views, and we have to start looking at this as an issue for older people.”
Mr O’Goan added: “One of the things that we have endeavoured to do over the last couple of years is actually to put the issue of alcohol misuse on the agenda for older people locally.
“We would work fairly closely with Age Well, the Mid Ulster Seniors’ Network, 040 and groups like that.”
The charity coordinators were also keen to point out that everyone they support remains anonymous, and if anyone needs help, or knows of someone who does, their door is always open.
On the second Monday of every month Tipsa hold drop-in sessions in both Cookstown and Magherafelt from 6.30-7.30pm.