Why do some older adults start drinking late in life?

First published: 10 May 2019 | Last updated: 20 May 2019

Introduction: The number of older adults is increasing, and the number of older adults with alcohol problems is increasing accordingly. The present study is a pioneering qualitative investigating a so far under-researched group of older adults experiencing alcohol problem onset after age 60 years. The present study explored expereinces of and causes for very late onset of alcohol problems.

Method: Semi structured interviews were carried out with 12 Danish individuals (7 men) whose alcohol use disorder started after the age of 60. An interpretative phenomenological framework was utilized for the analysis, and followed the six steps it prescribes. Participants were included until data saturation was achieved. We identified 18 categories whereof seven were relevant for our research question: alcohol use, alcohol misuse, social life, family, retirement, work and self-reported reasons.

Findings:  The Danish alcohol culture, the physical and mental habituation, and workplace or social drinking leads to an increased risk for very late onset alcohol use disorder. After retirement, participants experienced a loss of identity as they lacked meaningful activities to engage them. This led to experiences of loneliness that increased alcohol intake.

Discussion & Conclusion: The findings are comparable to existing research. Uniquely identified in this study, was the interplay between general alcohol culture and the development of very late onset alcohol problems.  The findings offer a starting point for further research and initial evaluation of treatment and preventive efforts aimed at older adults experiencing very late onset alcohol use disorder.

Keywords: alcohol, older adults, qualitative research, alcohol culture,


Kjeld Andersen, MSc, MD, Ph.D. Professor of Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry Odense, Denmark. Anette S. Nielsen, MA, Ph.D. Associate Professor, The Unit for Clinical Alcohol Research, Odense, Denmark.

Conflicts of interest:

The authors declare that they have no conflicting interests.

Dr Jakob Emiliussen