Phil Collins and the rise of mid-lif­ers drink­ing their way to obliv­ion

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFESTYLE - By JOE SHUTE

For Phil Collins it started at home in the long af­ter­noons, drink­ing a glass of two or wine in front of the Eng­land ver­sus West Indies Test match. In 2011 the for­mer Ge­n­e­sis front­man had de­cided to re­tire from mu­sic and move to Switzer­land to de­vote him­self to his fam­ily.

“I stopped work be­cause I wanted to be a dad at home,” he said in a press con­fer­ence on Mon­day in which he an­nounced a come­back tour. “As bad luck would have it, as soon as I re­tired, my fam­ily split up. I didn’t have any­one to go home to. That’s why I started drink­ing.”

In­stead he found him­self bored and kick­ing his heels alone on the shores of Lake Geneva. Collins never pre­vi­ously suf­fered from a reliance on al­co­hol — even in the heady decades where he rev­elled in the in­tem­per­ate world of show­busi­ness. But af­ter di­vorc­ing his third wife Ori­anne (with whom he has two sons aged 15 and 11 and has since been re­united) he started drink­ing in earnest.

Collins, 65, says he ini­tially jus­ti­fied the drink­ing by be­liev­ing “I de­served a break in my life where I could do any­thing, what­ever I wanted.” In a sep­a­rate ex­tract from his new mem­oir Not Dead Yet, out later this month, he writes: “It took me un­til the age of 55 to be­come an al­co­holic. I got through the heady 1960s, the trippy 1970s, the im­pe­rial 1980s, the busy 1990s. I was re­tired, con­tent, and then I fell. Be­cause I sud­denly had too much time on my hands.”

The af­ter­noon glass of wine turned into a cou­ple of bot­tles. Be­fore long he was down­ing vodka straight from the bot­tle for break­fast. Even­tu­ally he ended up in a Swiss in­ten­sive care with acute pan­cre­ati­tis.

He re­mem­bers ly­ing on what well might have been his deathbed, lis­ten­ing to doc­tors en­quire with the fam­ily nanny whether or not his will was in or­der.

To­day Collins is straight­ened out and (al­most) on the wagon — he still per­mits him­self the odd glass of wine but has es­chewed spir­its for the past three years. His story of rapid de­cline and fall, though, is one that res­onates with many of his age.

In­creas­ingly the over 65s are be­com­ing so­ci­ety’s great prob­lem drinkers. Re­tired, wealthy and bored af­ter their chil­dren have long left home, many over fifties can re­late to the same curse that af­flicted Phil Collins. There is even a cock­tail recipe known as the “empty nester”: part caber­net sau­vi­gnon, part tequila, part triple sec, part lime juice.

A ma­jor study of more than 9,000 peo­ple pub­lished last sum­mer con­cluded that drink­ing among the over-50s had be­come a hid­den “mid­dle class” phe­nom­e­non, with the higher some­body’s in­come the more at risk they are.

The num­ber of over 65s ad­mit­ted to hos­pi­tals in Eng­land and Wales for al­co­hol spe­cific dis­or­ders in­creased by 40 per cent between 2007 and 2014. But over roughly the same pe­riod the el­derly pop­u­la­tion in­creased by just 11 per cent.

“Peo­ple who are a bit older tend to be reg­u­lar drinkers,” says Emily Robin­son, the deputy chief ex­ec­u­tive of Al­co­hol Con­cern. “It’s strange be­cause this group of peo­ple can be par­tic­u­larly health con­scious. We do know if you earn more you are likely to drink more and in re­tire­ment it can be easy to add new habits and keep old ones. The whole “why not?” thing can make peo­ple feel drink­ing just isn’t a prob­lem.”

For Ca­role, a 57-year-old owner of a wealth man­age­ment com­pany based in the north of Eng­land, her prob­lems started, much like Phil Collins, with a di­vorce.

Ca­role and her for­mer hus­band have two grown up chil­dren, now aged 28 and 26, who had al­ready left home. When her mar­riage of 28 years col­lapsed she found her­self rat­tling around the spa­cious fam­ily house.

“I re­mem­ber think­ing oh this is go­ing to be aw­ful and I need to drink wine to get through it,” she says. “I started off hav­ing a cou­ple of glasses. To­wards the end it was a bot­tle ev­ery day. The most I would ever have drunk would have been 10 glasses in a night — which is a hell of a lot. I still came to work and was very suc­cess­ful. One of the prob­lems about drink­ing is the more you drink the more you can drink.”

The main phys­i­cal side-ef­fect she ex­pe­ri­enced was pil­ing on weight — nearly five stone in two-and-a-half years. “Ob­vi­ously I’m an in­tel­li­gent woman so knew the safe lim­its,” she says. “Al­co­hol just keeps you in a bad place.”

Feel­ing over­whelmed and out of con­trol, Ca­role de­cided to make a phone call from the Ritz Ho­tel, where she was meet­ing a pri­vate client, to the Har­ro­gate Sanc­tu­ary, a be­spoke ser­vice for peo­ple with drink­ing prob­lems. She has now been sober for al­most 21 months.

“A lot of my friends drink too much,” she says. “A few were quite hard on me be­cause peo­ple want you to do it as well. I think more peo­ple like my­self need to be hon­est about it.”

Ear­lier this year a new £25m lot­tery-funded project was launched across Bri­tain to at­tempt to change be­hav­iour and re­duce al­co­hol-re­lated harm among more than a mil­l­lion over 50s over the next seven years.

Re­search com­mis­sioned by the scheme found 17 per cent of over 50s class them­selves as “in­creas­ing risk drinkers”. Among the older adults sur­veyed who said they were now drink­ing more than they pre­vi­ously did, 40 per cent blamed it on re­tire­ment, 26 per cent on be­reave­ment and 20 per cent on a loss of sense of pur­pose.

“It’s a very hid­den pop­u­la­tion,” says Julie Bres­lin, the pro­gramme lead on the project called Drink Wise, Age Well. “For most peo­ple work­ing life is a struc­ture. At the point of re­tire­ment there isn’t that rou­tine in place. What we are see­ing is peo­ple for whom drink­ing has been ban­ished through their lives then at the point of re­tire­ment things start to change for them and it be­comes prob­lem­atic.”

The re­search also found that de­spite the warn­ings about what drink­ing is do­ing to peo­ple’s health, the younger gen­er­a­tion is pay­ing far more at­ten­tion. In­deed it is those aged between 55 and 64 that are the de­mo­graphic now most likely to suf­fer from al­co­hol-re­lated death.

“The baby boomers have very lib­eral at­ti­tudes to­wards al­co­hol,” says Dr Tony Rao, a con­sul­tant psy­chi­a­trist and one of the coun­try’s lead­ing ex­perts in sub­stance mis­use among the older pop­u­la­tion. “Those who are now in their mid-50s and above all have very dif­fer­ent at­ti­tudes to­wards drink­ing com­pared with the pu­ri­tan­i­cal youth of to­day who are giv­ing up ev­ery­thing. It is a bit of a time-bomb.”

Dr Rao works in a hos­pi­tal in North South­wark and while he be­gan his ca­reer treat­ing al­co­hol-re­lated con­di­tions among the old dock­ers of Ber­mond­sey, now in­creas­ingly sees those who have re­tired from lu­cra­tive ca­reers in the tow­er­ing of­fice blocks of the Square Mile.

The 51-year-old says he of­ten en­coun­ters mid­dle-class and mid­dleaged cou­ples who have shared a bot­tle of wine to­gether ev­ery night for 20 years and de­vel­oped se­ri­ous health prob­lems in the process.

Even those prob­lem drinkers who never get to the stage that Phil Collins did, can still find them­selves ly­ing on a hos­pi­tal bed.

“They de­velop long term harms like can­cer, a stroke, and high blood pres­sure,” Dr Rao says. “It’s not un­til some­thing hap­pens with them that they re­alise it’s too late.”

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