‘In the west, if you don’t drink, peo­ple think there’s some­thing wrong with you’

It’s a drink­ing fes­ti­val with a dif­fer­ence – no-one gets drunk as there is no booze. STEPHEN NAY­SMITH re­ports on the bat­tle to cut down al­co­holism in the over-50s

The Herald - - NEWS -

WRIT­ING on a web­site to help com­bat al­co­holism, “Tif­fers” out­lines a com­mon prob­lem. Although rarely “drunk”, she still drinks at least dou­ble the rec­om­mended limit ev­ery week, she says.

“I am re­ally keen to cut my drink­ing right down or quit,” she wrote on the Soberis­tas fo­rum. “I just have a real prob­lem with vi­su­al­is­ing so­cial sit­u­a­tions with no al­co­hol.”

This is a ma­jor con­cern, ac­cord­ing to ex­perts. In fact, find­ing ways to so­cialise and ac­tiv­i­ties to take part in away from al­co­hol is not easy – tes­ta­ment to the na­tion’s prob­lem­atic re­la­tion­ship with drink.

“I live in the west of Scot­land, where if you don’t drink, peo­ple as­sume there is some­thing wrong with you,” Tif­fers added.

An al­co­hol-free “mind­ful drink­ing fes­ti­val” at Glas­gow’s Brig­gait to­day will at­tempt to kick start a change in that cul­ture. A first for Scot­land, the free event is or­gan­ised by on­line sup­port group Club Soda – af­ter suc­cess­ful sim­i­lar fes­ti­vals in Lon­don.

The event is be­ing backed by the Drink Wise Age Well cam­paign (DWAW), a lot­tery-funded ini­tia­tive to tackle the prob­lem of ex­ces­sive drink­ing among the over-50s.

It is this group which throws up some of the most wor­ry­ing statis­tics about Scot­land’s drink cul­ture, and where peo­ple are most re­sis­tant to change.

Drink­ing above the UK Govern­ment’s rec­om­mended guide­lines is de­clin­ing in ev­ery age group bar the over-50s.

Counter to gen­eral trends, many peo­ple in­crease their drink­ing in later life, some­times be­cause they strug­gle to adapt to re­tire­ment, or be­com­ing emp­tynesters with more time to fill af­ter chil­dren have left home. Some drink more af­ter los­ing a part­ner and be­ing left alone.

“Drinkers aged 55-64 in Scot­land are more likely to ex­ceed the rec­om­mended weekly guide­lines than any other age group,” says Julie Bres­lin, head of the DWAW pro­gramme.

Wor­ry­ingly, only a mi­nor­ity are re­ceiv­ing help with this with es­ti­mates sug­gest­ing fewer than 10 per cent of those judged in need of clin­i­cal help by the NHS are ac­tu­ally in treat­ment.

Many of those with risky drink­ing habits in later life are mid­dle-aged, mid­dle-class drinkers, who won’t be af­fected by min­i­mum unit pric­ing, and who re­ject nanny state mes­sag­ing.

“Around 70% are drink­ing at home, alone. It is a very hid­den pop­u­la­tion.”

Alarm­ingly, if they do seek help, they may face dis­crim­i­na­tion from health ser­vices, she adds. “They can be viewed as too old to change and are more likely to be of­fered med­i­ca­tion than talk­ing

ther­a­pies, or other sup­port.” While this group tend to be re­sis­tant to change, view­ing them as im­pos­si­ble to in­flu­ence is mis­guided, she says. “We know that for 4% of late-on­set drinkers al­co­hol be­gins to be­come a prob­lem af­ter the age of 40, so it is wrong to write them off as ‘too late to change’ or be­cause ‘the dam­age is al­ready done’.”

Some are over­looked by health ex­perts be­cause they are not drink­ing at lev­els deemed “harm­ful” – but in fact they are be­cause their age means they could still be caus­ing them­selves sig­nif­i­cant dam­age, she says.

DWAW is call­ing for spe­cial­ist older adult ser­vices and ex­perts within ex­ist­ing treat­ment ser­vices.

Ms Bres­lin added: “Re­sources are tight, but the age­ing pop­u­la­tion is go­ing to grow and grow. We can’t leave this group iso­lated and for­got­ten.”

Mean­while groups like Soberis­tas reach peo­ple who would never go near an ad­dic­tion clinic or Al­co­holics Anony­mous, she says.

Club Soda, like Soberis­tas, grew from grass­roots on­line sup­port for those look­ing for ways to cut down on their drink­ing, while not feel­ing ab­nor­mal.

Glas­gow’s Mind­ful Drink­ing Fes­ti­val will of­fer vis­i­tors a chance to sam­ple the wares of non-al­co­holic drink providers, try mocktails made by ex­pert mixol­o­gists and find out about al­ter­na­tive al­co­hol­free drinks to chal­lenge the soft drink monotony of cola or or­ange juice.

These days, the al­ter­na­tives are vast – from “no-sin gin” to kom­bucha (fer­mented tea), and from al­co­hol-free cock­tails to craft gin­ger beer. With noth­ing avail­able above the le­gal limit of

Older drinkers could still be caus­ing them­selves dam­age be­cause of their age

0.5 per cent al­co­hol, par­tic­i­pants can even take their chil­dren along.

Club Soda co-founder Laura Wil­loughby MBE said since the first fes­ti­val in Lon­don last year, she had had im­me­di­ate re­quests from in­di­vid­u­als and or­gan­i­sa­tions in Glas­gow to bring the event to Scot­land.

“The most com­mon re­quest we get is for ideas about what to drink in­stead of al­co­hol, so we have cu­rated our favourites, and cre­ated an event for ev­ery­one. The fes­ti­val is great for those go­ing sugar-free, on a fit­ness regime, drink­ing more mind­fully, or go­ing al­co­hol-free. There are many rea­sons why peo­ple may want to swap out a few al­co­holic drinks for some­thing a bit health­ier.”

„ Drinkers toast with beer at brew­ery bar res­tau­rant – but the new fes­ti­val is show­ing you can have fun with­out a bevvy.

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