The number of alcohol-specific deaths in people aged 50 and over has risen 45 per cent since 2001, prompting fresh warnings about excessive drinking among baby boomers.
Last year there were 5,208 deaths of people aged 50-plus wholly attributable to alcohol, compared with 3,582 in 2001, according to Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures published on Tuesday.
Over the same period, the number of alcohol-specific deaths remained stable among under-50s – it was exactly the same for 15-49-year-olds – 2,118 – last year as 15 years previously.
Although the number of older people in the UK has risen, the alcohol-specific death rates (per 100,000 of population) has also increased among those aged 55 and over, while falling for all younger age groups.
Dr Tony Rao, the co-chair of substance misuse in the older people working group at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “The latest statistics are a wake-up call to the rising problem of alcohol misuse in a generation of baby boomers that need urgent consideration by our public health and clinical services in the UK.
“What we need to be doing is having a greater focus on commissioning services for people with more severe drinking problems and that doesn’t seem to be happening with the fragmentation of addiction services.”
Alcohol treatment in England was managed by the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse before April 1, 2013, but local authorities are now responsible for such services. With councils forced to tighten their belts, concerns have been voiced that many drug and alcohol addicts are not getting the help they need.
Izzi Seccombe, the chair of the Local Government Association’s community well being board, said: “Alcohol-related deaths are preventable, and councils would be able to do more if government reverses the cuts to the public health grant in the autumn budget.”
Rao said the figures were of particular concern because the new definition used by the ONS requires alcohol “to have a much closer relationship to the cause of death”.
The previous definition was “alcohol-related” deaths but was changed to create harmonisation among different government departments and agencies and reduce ambiguity. The ONS said the new measure produces a death count that is on average 18.7 per cent lower for males and 24.6 per cent lower for females.
Among men aged 70-74 the alcohol-specific death rate rose by 50 per cent from 2001, while among women aged 60 to 64 it increased by 35 per cent. The largest jumps – 55 per cent for men and 40 per cent for women – were in the 80-84 age group, although the absolute rates were lower.
The ONS suggested the increase among older people “may be a consequence of the misuse of alcohol that began several years, or even decades, previously”.
Dr James Nicholls, the director of research and policy development at Alcohol Concern, agreed: “A heavier-drinking post-war generation is now reaching an age where accumulated alcohol harms start to have a real impact. This is why it’s so important that high-quality alcohol interventions are made available to older drinkers, many of whom do not or cannot access alcohol services.”
The alcohol-specific death rate among all age groups was 11.7 and has remained constant since 2013 but is higher than 15 years previously, when it was 10.6.
Figures published in May showed that more than half a million adults aged between 55 and 74 were admitted to English hospitals with alcohol-related injuries, diseases or conditions, an increase of 64 per cent in a decade.