DO I drink too much? An uncomfortable question, especially when I hear my mother’s words from many years ago, “you’re fooling no one but yourself”. If it’s confession time, I probably fall into the category of older people who drink more than the so called “safe limit” – even when it’s applied elastically. As a group we are good at rationalising our risky behaviour. “It’s a social thing”, “It helps me sleep “, “It eases my rheumatism”, “At my age, what does it matter”?

But it does matter. In 2016, there were 1265 alcohol-related deaths in Scotland. Just under half occurred in the 60-plus age group. The over-65s make up the largest group consulting Scottish GPs about alcohol-related concerns. The Royal College of Psychiatrists estimate that over the past 20 years, potentially harmful drinking amongst elderly men has risen 40 per cent and doubled amongst older women.

Why have we become twilight tipplers? Partly it’s because we can. We are the most blessed age group of all time. Future generations won’t see our likes again. Many of us have the time and disposable income to keep our drinks cabinets brimming. When I was young, Hogmanay was the only time there was alcohol in the house. Neither of my parents bought a bottle of wine in their lives. My mother limited herself to a single Babycham in case “it went to her head”. In his long life, I never saw my father the worse for wear.

For them, the antidote to a problem was to put the kettle on and have a nice cup of tea. If things were really bad, stir in an extra sugar. In contrast, alcohol has become the baby boomers’ “go to” drug. This is particularly true of late-onset drinkers who may turn to alcohol if affected by bereavement, loneliness, pain or insomnia. I recall an elderly, unmarried ex-colleague, a non-drinker, who lived with his mother until her death. Thereafter, he increasingly found solitary solace in the alcohol that precipitated his premature death a couple of years later.

It’s possible earlier and longer retirements have contributed to the spike in consumption. While we may not be binge drinkers, a significant number of us are drinking most days. Retirement means that every day has become the weekend.

On my occasional fact-finding sorties into licensed premises, I spot relatively few mature tipplers. Most of my vintage are drinking at home. As a result, it’s hard to gauge accurately our consumption levels. Very few of us fall about in the streets or are involved in alcohol-fuelled disturbances. Mostly we don’t have jobs not to turn up to. Our drinking is generally well hidden. We are the invisible inebriates, until we turn up in GP surgeries that is.

Researchers anticipate “a timebomb” and “an epidemic of alcohol-related harm” amongst older people. If so, alcohol-related conditions can only add to the challenges already presented by an ageing population to an embattled NHS. How is the timebomb to be defused?

Perhaps when buying alcohol, there should be a requirement to show ID to prove you are over 18 but under 60. Seriously, one-size-fits-all solutions are unlikely to do the trick. Minimum pricing for example, is largely irrelevant for our age group unless levied at Scandinavian rates. In general, we are not consumers of strong, low-price alcohol and adding a pound to the cost won’t change the habits of a lifetime.

Baby boomers are old enough if not always wise enough, to recognise a problem and we need to be part of the solution. A targeted education programme might counteract the drinks industry’s persuasive advertising. It’s odd the Government bangs on about the harmful effects of alcohol while crowing about the “success” of the whisky trade at home and abroad.

Campaigns linking smoking to cancer and heart disease have been hugely effective. Plain packaging has eliminated any false “glamour” associated with tobacco. Perhaps it’s time to apply the same model to alcohol by publicising its harmful effect on body and mind and by applying standardised, non-attractive labelling.

The complex causes of problem drinking amongst older people need to be recognised and addressed through much earlier and coordinated interventions. Older people are more likely to be already in regular contact with a range of professionals including GPs, carers and social services. Those professionals need to overcome their understandable reluctance to quiz their elders about their drinking habits.

As the proportion of elderly people increases, so will the problems arising from harmful levels of consumption. The best chance of success lies with bringing the problem into the open and developing individualised and co-ordinated responses that address its causes. Am I optimistic? Yes, after all, I’m a glass half full man.