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Over the limit

The media is full of stories about former Liberal Democratic leader Charles Kennedy who has died at the age of 55.

Sadly for as much as his contributions to British politics and life, he will also be remembered for his drinking problem.

Many will remember his slightly odd behavior in interviews and appearances in Parliament and elsewhere but for a long time his struggle with drink was denied by his friends and close colleagues.

Charles was not alone. Drinking too much, or alcohol abuse as it is termed in a more uncomfortable way, is common among adults of all ages. More importantly for our age group, recent reports suggest that alcoholism and drinking problems may be increasing among older people.

Reports suggest 1.4 million people over the age of 65 are currently exceeding the recommended drinking levels.

There are of course many reasons for this. Dramatic life changes, loss of a partner, sudden problems with money, pain from physical and health problems; we all have a lot to contend with as we age and having an extra drink to help get one through a challenging time can provide support. The trouble is alcohol is addictive and that extra one off drink can quickly become a habit.

It is the same with people who have enjoyed a drink all through their working life. It can be very hard to realize that one’s body is changing and we may not be able to process alcohol as efficiently as we did when we were younger. Also, many of us start taking medications as we reach middle age and beyond, and these can interact with alcohol and can result in damage to one’s health.

There are details about “safe drinking” levels everywhere these days, but everyone is different and what might be okay for some may not be okay for you.

In America, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence offers a mass of information and one aspect we liked was a useful online test to help you assess whether you have a drinking problem. You can find this at:

According to Alcoholics Anonymous, Britain’s leading organization to help people with alcohol problems, only the person involved can decide if they have an alcohol problem or not. You need to look realistically at your drinking habits and consider if you continually find your health or daily activities are being affected by drink; if you repeatedly drink more than you intend to; or if you get into trouble when you drink.

Alcoholics Anonymous say if you have concern about your drinking, simply give them a call. Many people don’t realize how safe and easy it is to contact Alcoholics Anonymous. They really are there to support people, not judge in any way. They don’t keep any membership files or attendance details for their meetings; they will never disclose your identity to an outsider. There aren’t even any official fees – although at meetings they often have a collection to cover basic running expenses such as rent or coffee.

You can call the AA in complete confidence on 0845 769 7555 or email

And for the record, in the UK the generally recommended safe limits of alcohol are:

For men: no more than 21 units a week, no more than four units in any one day; and recommended to have two alcohol-free days a week.

For women: no more than 14 units a week; no more than three units in any one day; and recommended to have at least two alcohol-free days a week.

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