As Alcohol Awareness Week launches in the UK (13–19th November), a worrying trend shows that the number of older people binge drinking is growing rapidly. According to the British Medical Journal, the numbers of people aged over 50 receiving treatment for excessive alcohol consumption is expected to treble in the USA and double in Europe by 2020.

Women are said to be especially prone to drinking in later life. This could be triggered by bereavement, retirement, social isolation and losing contact with family and friends.

The concern is that a lack of sound alcohol screening to detect risky drinking could be a further burden on our already cash-strapped NHS. This could include a need for better treatment programmes, greater use of ambulance services and an increase in hospital admissions.

The management of substance abuse in older people can be complicated by failing mental capacity and the onset of cognitive impairment. However, specific treatment programmes aimed at older people have been shown to result in less severe addiction, higher rates of abstinence and improved health status. There is a call for new solutions to this problem and a need for a coordinated approach to integrated care.

Meanwhile, researchers in Australia have created a drug that can switch off the impulse to binge drink. The discovery from the University of Adelaide is aimed at adult binge drinkers who struggle to change their behaviour because their brain development was affected by drinking during their teenage years.

“When an adolescent who has been binge drinking becomes an adult, they’re often left with an immature brain, which assists in the development of alcohol dependence,” said pharmacology PhD student Jon Jacobsen.

The researchers discovered that adolescent laboratory mice exposed to binge drinking became more susceptible to alcohol as adults.

“Even a small amount of alcohol during adolescence can alter the way mice respond to alcohol later on in life, suggesting any amount of alcohol is potentially detrimental to normal brain development,” said Mr Jacobsen.

The new drug works by blocking an immune system response in the brain resulting in the mice drinking less. The hope is that this drug will be able to treat alcohol addiction by switching off binge-drinking behaviour in adults who were heavy drinkers in their teenage years.

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