Employers ‘letting down’ over 50s on risks of alcohol in later life – new report

  • Recent retirees are more likely to drink every day
  • Almost one third of older drinkers in the professional occupational class drink 5-7 days a week
  • A quarter of the professional occupational class aged 60-69 drink heavily – more than under 30s
  • Those retiring before 60 and after 75 are more likely to be high-risk drinkers

Older adults in employment and facing retirement are being let down by employers when it comes to problem drinking, a report released today states.

The report written by ILC-UK and commissioned by Drink Wise, Age Well, urges employers and government to take more action to help over 50s in employment or facing retirement to avoid serious alcohol problems in later life.

It highlights retirement as a ‘danger point’ for problem drinking, with recent retirees over 50 being more likely to drink every day. Additionally, those retiring before 60 are more likely to become a high-risk drinker, as are those working beyond the age of 75.

It concludes that there is currently a ‘blind spot’ in support from employers and the state in preparing for retirement which falls short of emotional, health and social changes. For millions of people facing later retirement in the future, the report represents a clarion call.

For those over 50s still employed stress, boredom, lack of control over work and retirement worries all contribute to drinking more. Earlier this year the Drink Wise, Age Well survey revealed that as many as 1 in 4 older adults would not ask for help with an alcohol problem if they needed it.  For those who drank more than they used to, 40% cited retirement as a reason for doing so.

Other findings include:

  • Nearly 30% of over 50s in the ‘professional’ occupational classes drink 5-7 days a week, the highest of any occupational class
  • Almost a quarter of older groups in the highest professions drink more than their younger counterparts
  • Alcohol problems can cost UK employers money in terms of workplace absence and lost productivity – around 7.3 billion a year

Over 50s who have been out of work and recovered from an alcohol problem still face further barriers in getting back into work. Only 16% of employers said they would consider employing someone with a previous alcohol problem, leaving some of the UK’s most experienced workers who want to work unable to realise their potential.

The authors of the report call for employers to introduce measures to assist employees over 50 who might be struggling with an alcohol problem, such as counselling and effective workplace policies that treat alcohol issues like any other health issue.

For those into retirement, the report calls for GPs to factor in the effects of retirement when giving advice on reducing risk from alcohol. The report also calls for greater engagement from employers to staff pre and post-retirement. This includes social clubs and guidance on how to avoid alcohol becoming a problem once working life is over.

Julie Breslin, head of programme for Drink Wise, Age Well said:

“People aged over 50 who are out of work, may struggle more than any other age group to get employment. Add this to someone over 50 who is in recovery from problem drinking, and there is a compounded stigma. However, people in recovery will often have so much more to offer a workplace; experience, loyalty and commitment, and by making employment opportunities more accessible everyone benefits.

Additionally, people who are approaching retirement age will have given much of their life to the workplace and supporting their employer’s success. It is only right that there is an investment from the workplace into their well-being particularly as they approach retirement. There should be a holistic approach to retirement which includes health and well-being. Providing people with knowledge and awareness, and coping strategies to manage the transition hopefully means people won’t turn to increased alcohol use if they are struggling”

David McCullough, chief executive of Royal Voluntary Service said:

“Retirement is like a cliff edge and often older people go from having a busy schedule and colleagues to interact with, to days where they might not see anyone or even have a conversation on the phone. It doesn’t take long for loneliness to set in and drinking a little more than they should each day can quickly become the norm. It’s vital that people facing retirement or those recently retired, remain mentally and physically active and engaged in their community and we would urge employers to ensure they have the necessary support and guidance in place to help employees with what can be a very steep transition.”

Baroness Sally Greengross, chief executive of the International Longevity Centre – UK said:

“As our population ages, the importance of older employees continues to grow.

A healthy and happy older workforce is vital, and having a better relationship with alcohol can help towards this. This report shows that many older adults are reaching retirement drinking potentially harmful amounts, and there is a need for increased support from employers in treating alcohol problems as they would other health problems.

Employers, health professionals and family members should be having these potentially difficult conversations sooner rather than later, to prevent serious alcohol related harm developing later in life”.

The report is available to download here.

Notes to Editors:

  • The report was compiled from existing health and social-related data and took evidence from working and retired over 50s, and employers at a series of enquiries at the House of Lords.
  • The AUDIT Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test identifies three categories of drinker:

o LOWER RISK: This group is defined as: AUDIT score of 0-7 Or: Men who regularly drink 3-4 units per day. Women who regularly drink 2-3 units per day. This group is defined as ‘lower risk’ rather than ‘no risk, as evidence is accumulating that no level of alcohol use is without risk entirely. This is particularly true for older adults.

o INCREASING RISK DRINKERS This group is defined as: AUDIT score of 8-15 or Men who regularly drink more than 3 to 4 units a day, but less than the higher risk levels. Women who regularly drink more than 2 to 3 units a day, but less than the higher risk levels.

o HIGHER RISK DRINKERS This group is defined as: AUDIT score of 16+ or Men who regularly drink more than 8 units a day or more than 50 units of alcohol per week. (5 bottles of wine or 20 pints). Women who regularly drink more than 6 units a day or more than 35 units of alcohol per week. (14 pints lager or 3 ½ bottles of wine)

  • High Risk drinkers are defined in this research as respondents in Understanding Society who drink more than five times a week and who drink more than eight units in a typical day.
  • Recent retirees are defined as respondents in Understand Society who retired between waves four and five.
  • Drink Wise, Age Well will be delivered over a seven year period by a consortium led overall by Addaction and in Northern Ireland by Addiction Northern Ireland, and including Royal Voluntary Service, International Longevity Centre UK and Drug and Alcohol Charities Wales. The programme will be evaluated by an academic team led by the University of Bedfordshire’s Substance Misuse and Ageing Research Team (SMART

Each partner will take the lead in a demonstration area:

  • Western Health and Social Care Trust, Northern Ireland: Addiction Northern Ireland (contact Director Thelma Abernethy or Locality Manager Joanne Smith )
  • Cwm Taf Wales: Drug Aid (Director, Caroline Phipps or Locality Manager Richard Broadway)
  • Devon County, England:  Addaction (Contact Clare Pawley)
  • Sheffield City, England : Royal Voluntary Service- (Contact Emma Wells)
  • Glasgow City, Scotland: Addaction (Contact Graeme Callander)
  • Research and Evaluation: Sarah Wadd, SMART who will lead a UK wide academic team
  • Policy- Sally-Marie Bamford, ILC-UK
  • The Big Lottery Fund supports the aspirations of people who want to make life better for their communities across the UK. It is responsible for giving out 40% of the money raised by the National Lottery and invests over £650 million a year in projects big and small in health, education, environment and charitable purposes.
  • Since June 2004 it has awarded over £8 billion to projects that change the lives of millions of people. Every year it funds 13,000 small local projects tackling big social problems like poor mental health and homelessness. Since the National Lottery began in 1994, £34 billion has been raised and more than 450,000 grants awarded.


ILC-UK are once again looking for someone to speak for 10 minutes on the plenary platform in front of 250 people at our annual Future of Ageing Conference (29th November, London).

“Auto-enrolment has successfully led to millions more saving each month towards a pension, but the Committee is right to call for action to get people saving more. We are pleased they support our recommendations to consider automatic escalation of pension contributions for some individuals, and we agree that a strategy is needed to automatically-enrol the self-employed."

Dr Brian Beach, Senior Research Fellow at ILC-UK and who gave oral evidence to the Committee, welcomes the Committee’s call for stronger action by Government and EHRC and says it’s crucial that employers understand what ageism really is.

“The latest Fiscal Sustainability Report makes it very clear that we are facing an uncertain future. Demographic pressures are set to continue to dominate the agenda, with health, pension and adult social care spending all set to rise as a proportion of total GDP."

Are you looking for a short-term paid role in a think tank over the summer?
The independent think tank the International Longevity Centre – UK (ILC-UK) is seeking a summer intern to start on Monday 23 July. The intern would work 4 days a week for a period of 4 weeks, with the possibility of extension.

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