Calling Time – Addressing ageism and age discrimination in alcohol policy, practice and research

Nov 20, 2017 | REPORTS

This report has found that ageism and age discrimination in alcohol policy, practice and research is denying older people the treatment they need to recover from harmful drinking.

Widrespread ageism in alcohol treatment preventing UK over 50s getting help:

  • Three out of four residential rehab services in England exclude older people
  • ONS figures show 45% rise in alcohol-specific deaths in UK 50+ since 2001
  • “Older adults with alcohol problems among most vulnerable in society”

The report for Drink Wise, Age Well asserts that some policies and practices are actually in breach of Equality and Human Rights legislation and calls on UK governments to develop alcohol strategies that recognise that older adults’ needs may be different to those of younger people.

Higher risk drinking is declining in the UK except among people who are age 50 and over and with an ageing population the trend is of major concern, not least to the World Health Organisation (WHO) which has set a target of at least 10% relative reduction in harmful use of alcohol by 2025.

Recent ONS figures further underline the urgency of the situation. ‘ONS Alcohol-specific deaths in the UK: registered in 2016’ show a 45% increase in alcohol-specific deaths in the over 50s in the past 15 years (2001 – 2016).

The new report, however, states that “Ageist policies can be identified easily and abolished in a relatively short period… with very little impact on resources”.

‘Calling Time – Addressing ageism and age discrimination in alcohol policy, practice and research’ was authored by the Substance Misuse and Ageing Research Team at the University of Bedfordshire, Addaction and the International Longevity Centre-UK (ILC-UK) based on extensive review of UK strategies, policies and legislation, published literature and data on clinical trials, as well as a polling of professional opinion and focus groups with problematic drinkers.

Its main findings include:

  • Practitioners discriminating against older adults including managing issues relating to alcohol use (e.g. vitamin injections) rather than referring them for alcohol treatment and young adults being prioritised over older people;
  • Some of the reasons given are perceptions that older people are too old to change and that it’s not worth intervening because of life expectancy. There is also a sense that the care needs of older people are too complex for treatment;
  • A study for Alcohol Research UK featured in the report found that “three out of four residential alcohol rehab services in England exclude older people based on arbitrary age limit”;
  • The Equality Act 2010 states that “services must provide equal services regardless of age or disability”. It is therefore unlawful for services “to provide inferior services, or refuse to provide services because of a person’s age, unless there is a good or sufficient reason”;
  • Age is no predictor of care needs. It is quite possible that the needs of a 40 year-old will be higher than those of a 65 year-old;
  • Adults over the age of 65 are excluded from 46% of clinical trials for alcohol treatment/interventions.


Report authors: Sarah Ward, George Holley-Moore, Amna Riaz and Rebecca Jones