Researchers found that people ages 30 to 65 believe drinking is safe as long as they can still meet their responsibilities and their behavior remains socially acceptable.
The impact of alcohol on health was either “described as a minor concern or not considered at all” by middle-aged people included in the study, which analyzed drinkers in Britain, Australia, Japan and Norway.
The study by researchers at the University of Adelaide analyzed nine previous British studies and four from other countries to build an understanding of why middle-aged people consume alcohol.
It highlighted that middle-aged people drink mainly to relax, to reclaim or enforce their identities and due to gender norms.
Men are more likely to discuss emotional issues if they are drinking beer in a pub, because “the un-masculine work of talking about feelings (is) counterbalanced by the highly masculinised model of drinking,” it said.
Women are more likely to be scrutinized over how much they drink than men, the report said, while men are less comfortable deviating from “masculine” drinks such as beer.
To better reach this age group, the authors then recommended public health campaigns switch focus from health issues, and instead show how drinking impacts reputation and leads to immature behavior.
“The principal barrier to reductions in alcohol consumption is not the lack of information about health risks. The drinkers in these studies were aware of public health messages, but drew upon alternative narratives to reframe their behaviours,” the authors wrote.
They added that highlighting “the requirement for respectability in drinking” and “the physical limits of ageing bodies,” among other concerns, would have more of an impact.
But the paper highlighted an Australian campaign called “Drink Driving — Grow Up,” which suggested that drunken driving is childish by using child actors in adult roles, as a more effective way of urging middle-aged people to drink less.
“An increasing number of people, particularly middle aged drinkers, are drinking in ways that are putting them at risk of serious and potentially life limiting conditions such as heart disease, liver disease and some types of cancer,” said Ben Butler, Drinkaware’s director of content and communications.
“As this research shows, many people use social norms to validate how much they drink and gauge their own drinking against how they believe friends or family members drink. However, it’s important people are honest with themselves and understand how their drinks might be adding up across the week,” he added.
According to the Office for National Statistics, 57% of UK adults drink alcohol on a weekly basis, with people aged between 45 and 64 more likely to be drinkers than any other age group.
High blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, liver damage and some cancers have been linked to alcohol consumption, while a study last month found that alcohol was responsible for nearly 3 million deaths worldwide in 2016.