One in five older people who drink alcohol are consuming it at “unsafe levels” with the risk of premature death or serious health effects.
Those with greater wealth and higher education are most likely to be in the “unsafe” group.
“As the Baby Boomer generation become seniors, they represent an ever increasing population of older people drinking at levels that pose a risk to their health”, said Dr Tony Rao, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London who studied almost 30,000 people.
His research showed that the biggest group of older drinkers were more likely to be White or Irish while those from Caribbean, African or Asian ethnicities were less likely to drink.
A substantial group of the “unsafe drinkers” were Irish – close to one in 10.
Unsafe drinking is more than 21 units of alcohol a week for men and 14 units for women.
The study showed the top 5pc of men drank more than 49units a week and the women drank more than 23 units.
The older drinkers were likely to be of higher socioeconomic status and more than two thirds of the “unsafe drinkers” were men.
“This study shows the need for greater awareness of the potential for alcohol related harm in older people, particularly those of higher socio-economic status, who may suffer the consequences of ill health from alcohol at an earlier age than those in previous generations,” added Dr Rao.
Dr Mark Ashworth, of the Division of Health and Social Care Research at King’s College, said: ‘This research highlights that as GPs we need be more aware of the risk of older people, especially men, drinking excessively.
“Reducing alcohol misuse is important to prevent premature death and serious negative health effects, such as alcoholic liver disease, which are big burden on our health system.
“Alcohol excess carries additional risks in the older population such as falls and confusion” he stressed.
The study is published in BMJ Open.