Healthy, active and sociable over 50-year-olds are more at risk of harmful drinking than their less successful peers, stated research published in the BMJ Open.
The researchers based their findings on more than 9000 responses to the two most recent waves (2008-9 and 2010-11) of the English Longitudinal Survey of Ageing (ELSA) which is a long-term study of a respresentative sample of those aged 50 and above living independently at home in England.
Survey participants were asked about a range of potentially influential factors including income, educational attainment, self-reported health, whether they smoked, fiet, physical actitivy levels, ethnic background, marital status, employment status and social engagement.
Analysis of the responses showed that the risk of harmful drinking peaked for men in their early 60s and then gradually tailed off, whereas for women risky drinking fell in tandem with age.
Income was associated with a higher risk, but only among women, while smoking, higher educational attainment and good health were all linked to heightened risk in both sexes.
Higher risk of harmful drinking was not linked to feelings of loneliness or depression, but it was more likely among men living on their own, including those who were separated or divorced. It was also more common among men of white ethnicity.
In both waves of the survey, researchers found that among women, loneliness, younger age and higher income were all associated with the likelihood of becoming a higher risk drinker by 2010-11. A healthy diet seemed to lessen the risk.
The researchers said that even though there was a risk if simplication 'the problem of harmful drinking among people aged 50 or over in England [was a] middle class phenomenon: people in better health, higher income, with higher educational attainment and socially more active are more likely to drink at harmful levels,' they said.
'Our findings suggest that harmful drinking in later life is more prevalent among people who exhibit a lifestyle associated with affluence and with a "successful" ageing process,' they added.
'Harmful drinking may then be a hidden health and social problem in otherwise successful older people,' they warn, concluding: 'Consequently, and based on our results, we recommend the explicit incorporation of alcohol drinking levels and patterns into the successful ageing paradigm.'
Researchers used national guidance to define increasing risk of harmful drinking at 22-50 weekly units for men and 15-35 weekly units for women; and higher risk, at more than 50 and more than 35 weekly units, respectively for men and women.