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Sociol Health Illn. 2012 May;34(4):481-96. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9566.2011.01424.x. Epub 2011 Oct 28.

Older and wiser? Men's and women's accounts of drinking in early mid-life.

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  • 1MRC Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, Glasgow, UK School of Psychology, Massey University, New Zealand.


Most qualitative research on alcohol focuses on younger rather than older adults. To explore older people's relationship with alcohol, we conducted eight focus groups with 36 men and women aged 35 to 50 years in Scotland, UK. Initially, respondents suggested that older drinkers consume less alcohol, no longer drink to become drunk and are sociable drinkers more interested in the taste than the effects of alcohol. However, as discussions progressed, respondents collectively recounted recent drunken escapades, challenged accounts of moderate drinking, and suggested there was still peer pressure to drink. Some described how their drinking had increased in mid-life but worked hard discursively to emphasise that it was age and stage appropriate (i.e. they still met their responsibilities as workers and parents). Women presented themselves as staying in control of their drinking while men described going out with the intention of getting drunk (although still claiming to meet their responsibilities). While women experienced peer pressure to drink, they seemed to have more options for socialising without alcohol than did men. Choosing not to drink alcohol is a behaviour that still requires explanation in early mid-life. Harm reduction strategies should pay more attention to drinking in this age group.

© 2011 The Authors. Sociology of Health & Illness © 2011 Foundation for the Sociology of Health & Illness/Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

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