Older women drinkers: Need for research

RESEARCH needs to be carried out on the growing number of women, aged 55 to 80, who have drinking problems, a conference will be told this weekend.

Addiction specialist with the Irish College of General Practitioners Dr Rolande Andersen is warning that, among this group, problem drinking and alcoholism is hidden as it is often done alone at home.

Excessive drinking in older women can lead to an increased risk of osteoporosis, as well as mental health and blood pressure problems. Many such women suffer serious injuries owing to falling when drunk.

Older women who suffer domestic violence at the hands of their partners are also more likely to drink heavily, according to Dr Andersen.

He will remind delegates at the conference on Celebrating the Older Woman that domestic violence does not end when a woman reaches middle age but can continue until she is in her 90s.

Triggers for the onset of increased drinking in older women include children moving out, bereavement or an inability to cope with the physical and mental problems that come with ageing.

In addition, women with drink problems tend to be more at risk of domestic violence, Dr Andersen says, as they “don’t have the self-esteem to leave”.

“Many women feel hopeless about the violence they’re experiencing and start drinking to heal the pain. Often, too, their partner’s violence stems from his own problem with drink. Other older women feel angry and drink at home to deal with this while others feel isolated,” he said.

Most older Irish women drink at home rather than at the local bar while many are “wine drinkers” — a habit that won’t often get noticed by relatives or friends.

“There is definitely not as many older women drinking as there are younger people but they are there and they are hidden,” said Dr Andersen.

The conference’s key-note speaker will be Liz McManus TD of the Labour party, who will speak about the freedoms of older women and her belief that “if you have your health and some financial security, you are likely to get happier as you get older”.


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