When it comes to managing alcohol consumption, middle-aged drinkers are more likely to cut down due to fear they’re an embarrassing drunk than worrying about health implications of another glass of wine.
Researchers found adults between the ages of 30 and 65 have only “minor” concerns about the health effects, instead they worry about reputational damage or not being able to fulfil responsibilities because of their consumption.
Lead researcher Emma Muhlack from University of Adelaide, who conducted the study, said: “It is surprising that health does not strongly factor in the way that this group thinks about their drinking.”
She told HuffPost UK: “The common theme across papers was they felt it would be inappropriate for them to drink like young people do (e.g. binge drinking, public drunkenness). In that sense, it could be embarrassing for them to be seen drinking in those ways, which is of course why they don’t.”
The NHS advises people not to consume more than 14 units in a week – the equivalent to six pints of average-strength beer or 10 small glasses of low-strength wine. And advises these 14 units are spread over three days or more.
Much of the health service campaigning on reducing alcohol consumption has focused on the health implications of drinking more than this limit.
But the new study (which reviewed 13 previous papers) found campaigns such as the NHS one could be more effective if focused on what really matters to middle-aged drinkers: making a fool of themselves by behaving inappropriately.
“Health was either described as a minor concern or not considered at all,” said the authors. “The drinkers in these studies were aware of public health messages, but drew upon alternative narratives to re-frame their behaviours in ways that minimised or dismissed personal risk.”
And it found that when people did think about health they only used their own experience as a benchmark for deciding whether they’d overdone it, not guidelines from health organisations.
The analysis looked at what was deemed ‘acceptable drinking’ and found it was all relative to your age, stage of life and even gender, and avoiding obvious signs of drunkenness.
For example certain drinks are deemed more appropriate for women and others for men. Additionally, drinking at home was associated with women but drinking in public was associated with men.
The researchers suggest that campaigns which focus on failing to meet responsibilities because of alcohol and the possible loss of respect may be more effective than health messages.
Muhlack said that we currently know very little about the decision-making process that goes into middle-aged alcohol consumption.
“The results from this review help us to better understand how drinking alcohol fits into their everyday lives and which factors may need to be taken into consideration when attempting to reduce alcohol consumption in this group.”