Most people are familiar with the phrases “Dry January” and “Sober for October” ... but what do these drink-free months really mean to us at alcohol services like Drink Wise, Age Well? 

Initiatives like Dry January and Sober for October are great for people who are already motivated to change their alcohol use and make healthier lifestyle choices, and they give positive public messages around being alcohol-free.

These things alongside measures such as minimum unit pricing and alcohol awareness campaigns can really help the wider population to engage with the key messages of safer and healthier use of alcohol.

However, there are people who need additional support and the opportunity to look at the underlying reasons for their drinking eg isolation, loss of purpose and bereavement, which services like Drink Wise, Age Well and Addaction can provide. 

At our Glasgow-based Drink Wise, Age Well service, for people aged 50-plus affected by alcohol, we use evidence-based support to look at the reasons behind each person’s problematic drinking and the best ways for them to move to recovery.

Medical studies show that alcohol is linked to seven different kinds of cancer. 

Harmful drinking is declining in the UK except among people aged 50 and over so, given that cancer is more likely to affect older adults, the risk is clear. 

Looking at the actual figures we know that last year a total of 44.7 million litres of pure alcohol was sold in Scotland. And we can see that 20 per cent of people aged over 50 are exceeding the UK Government’s low-risk weekly alcohol guidelines (a maximum of 14 units). 

In 2018, 9% more alcohol was sold per adult in Scotland than per adult
in England and Wales (MESAS report 2019). 

In 2017, adult drinkers aged 45 - 54 and 55 - 64 reported the highest average weekly consumption.

At a service tailored to people aged 50-plus, our Drink Wise, Age Well staff witness the stigma and shame that prevent older adults coming forward for help with alcohol. 

We are working to change that, with practical and emotional support that’s based on older people’s individual histories and their current challenges. 

We use research data and working knowledge to help people get their health back and get their lives on track, whether that’s being involved with grandchildren again, or connecting with others and tackling isolation. 

We use a holistic approach rather than just removing alcohol.

Currently there are 15 million people in the UK who are aged 60 and above. 
This number is projected to rise to 20 million by the 2030s, so it’s crucial that we support the hidden population of problematic drinkers and give them back the lives they deserve.

Every day we see people flourish in their recoveries, often in ways they never thought possible.

Considering Scotland’s relationship with alcohol and some of the statistics that highlight the health harms attributed to alcohol we should not expect initiatives like Sober for October to address this on its own. 

Alcohol services like ours need to find ways to align ourselves closer to these campaigns, so that people can access services like Addaction and Drink Wise, Age Well for non-judgmental support. 

Our job as alcohol services must be about building on the opportunities created by Dry January and Sober for October to provide longer term support for those individuals looking to change their drinking patterns or work towards becoming alcohol free.

We also recognise that more needs to be done, with older adults drinking more than any other age group, alcohol services need to ensure that we support campaigns like Dry January and Sober for October as well as linking in with our colleagues from the NHS. 

We know from our own research that older adults are not routinely asked about their drinking by health staff or other professionals, so our job must
be as much about partnership working as it is about supporting individuals
to recover. 

We all need help at certain times in our lives and we should never feel ashamed to say it, no matter what age we are or what the issue is.

If you or someone close to you is affected by drinking, there are services like ours which are free of charge and easy to access.

Our Addaction and Drink Wise, Age Well service finder at shows what is available near you. If we don’t cover your area, another charity will have similar services you can use.

If you just want some information or can’t/don’t want to go into a service building, our online webchat lets you chat onscreen to a support worker.

We will always support initiatives that promote changing people’s relationships with alcohol but, for the people we work with, this must be followed up with year-round advice, information and support in order to tackle root causes and make lasting changes. 

- Graeme Callander is the service manager for Addaction and Drink Wise, Age Well.