Guidance for social workers in supporting older problem drinkers

BASW guide calls on social workers to use sensitive questioning and careful observation during home visits to identify and support rising number of older problem drinkers.

Social workers must identify and support older people who misuse alcohol to address increasing levels of problem drinking among the over-65s, says guidance issued today.


Tips for social workers in supporting older drinkers

 Ask older people about alcohol use as it can be a regular and important part of their life.

 Explore how older people’s alcohol use can be both a cause of, and response to, negative changes in quality of life.

 Discuss the use of, and rules about, alcohol in
care and accommodation settings.

 Consider how alcohol use can increase a person’s vulnerability.

 Look at the impact on  carers, family and friends, who often experience the negative effects of older
people’s drinking.

Source: Alcohol and Older People, British Association of Social Workers


Alcohol and Older People, a pocket guide published by the British Association of Social Workers, provides information on the cause and consequences of problem drinking among older people and advice on appropriate interventions by practitioners.

The guide identifies two types of older excessive drinkers: early onset drinkers, who have been drinking excessively for years, and late onset drinkers, for whom problem drinking starts in older age.

It says alcohol use may be a response to loneliness, loss, coping with retirement or fear of dying or the outside world. It also highlights the fact that health problems originating from drinking increase with age, because the body becomes less able to process alcohol, and the risks of people mixing alcohol with prescribed medication.

Social workers are well placed to identify problem drinking among older people, which is often discreet, both because of their contact with older people and their assessment skills, it says. It urges social workers to use sensitive questioning, look for signs of excessive drinking on home visits and provide information to enable older people to make positive choices to improve their quality of life.

It also encourages social workers to beware the links between alcohol use and increased vulnerability among older people and the potential for alcohol to affect people’s capacity to make decisions. There is also advice on working with the carers of older people who drink excessively and on identifying risks to both carers and service users in these situations.

Panorama on drinking among older people

The guide has been launched ahead of a Panorama programme on Monday (10 September) exploring problem drinking among older people. The programme will be shown on BBC One at 7.30pm.

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Care professionals must act on alcohol misuse among elderly

Practice case study: An older person with a drink problem

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