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In the glass tonight: Phil Collins and the plague of middle-aged drinking

Take a look at him now: Phil Collins says he has beaten the bottle and is coming out of rock retirement

Against all odds, the rock star has overcome his alcohol problem. But millions of his contemporaries will not

In the glass tonight: Phil Collins and the plague of middle-aged drinking

It started at home in the afternoons, Phil Collins remembers. He’d drink a glass or two of wine in front of the England v West Indies test match. That was in 2011, when the rock star had retired from music and moved to Switzerland to devote himself to his family. “I stopped work because I wanted to be a dad at home,” he said at a London press conference this week to launch a comeback tour and memoir. “As bad luck would have it, as soon as I retired, my family split up. I didn’t have anyone to go home to. That’s why I started drinking.” In his new book Not Dead Yet, the 65-year-old writes: “It took me until the age of 55 to become an alcoholic. I was retired, content, and then I fell. Because I suddenly had too much time on my hands.” Today Collins is straightened out and (almost) on the wagon – he still pours the odd glass of wine but has avoided spirits for three years.  He has his family again. His story will be familiar to many people of his age. The over-65s are becoming society’s great problem drinkers. Retired, wealthy and bored after their children have left home, many over-50s fall victim to the curse that afflicted Collins. A study of more than 9000 people published in the online journal BMJ Open last year concluded drinking among the over-50s had become a middle-class phenomenon. The higher somebody’s income, the more at risk they were. The number of over-65s admitted to English and Welsh hospitals for alcohol-specific disorders increased 40% between 2007-14, although the elderly population increased just 11 per cent over the same period. Some 17% of over-50s classed themselves as “increasing risk drinkers.” Among older adults who said they were drinking more, 40% blamed it on retirement, 26% on bereavement and 20% on “a loss of sense of purpose.” Despite the warnings about what drinking is doing to people’s health, the younger generation is paying far more attention, the research showed. Those aged 55-64 are now most likely to suffer alcohol-related death. “Baby boomers have very liberal attitudes towards alcohol,” says Dr Tony Rao, a consultant psychiatrist and one of Britain’s leading experts in substance misuse among the older population. “Those who are now in their mid-50s and above have very different attitudes towards drinking compared with the puritanical youth of today who are giving up everything. It is a bit of a time-bomb.” The 51-year-old says he often encounters middle-class and middle-aged couples who have shared a bottle of wine every night for 20 years and developed serious health problems. “They develop long-term harms like cancer, a stroke, and high blood pressure,” Rao says. “It’s not until something happens with them that they realise it’s too late.” Down Under statistics show a growing problem with middle-aged drinkers, but there are significant differences in each country. In Australia, middle-aged women drink more alcohol than any other age group, according to Queensland University of Technology Hanna Watling’s 2015 research. It shows 13% of women aged 4-59 are drinking an average of more than two glasses of wine at night, which could be placing them at risk of serious illness. In New Zealand, the Health Promotion Agency’s most recent Health Survey estimates 9% of all 55 to 64-year-olds and 5% of all 65 to 74-year-olds are drinking at hazardous or harmful levels.

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