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Background Risk of harm from drinking is heightened in later life, owing to age-related sensitivities to alcohol. Primary care services have a key role in supporting older people (aged ≥50 years) to make healthier decisions about alcohol. Aim To examine primary care practitioners’ perceptions of factors that promote and challenge their work to support older people in alcohol risk-reduction. Design and setting Qualitative study consisting of semi-structured interviews and focus groups with primary care practitioners in Northern England. Method Thirty-five practitioners (GPs, practice/district nurses, pharmacists, dentists, social care practitioners, and domiciliary carers) participated in eight interviews and five focus groups. Data were analysed thematically, applying principles of constant comparison. Results Practitioners highlighted particular sensitivities to discussing alcohol among older people, and reservations about older people’s resistance to making changes in old age; given that drinking practices could be established, and promote socialisation and emotional wellbeing in later life. Age-related health issues increased older people’s contact with practitioners, but management of older people’s long-term conditions was prioritised over discussion of alcohol. Dedicated time to address alcohol in routine consultations with older people and training in alcohol intervention facilitated practitioners, particularly pharmacists and practice nurses. Conclusion There are clear opportunities to support older people in primary care to make healthier decisions about alcohol. Dedicated time to address alcohol, training in identification of alcohol-related risks (particularly those associated with old age), and tailored interventions for older people, feasible to implement in practice settings, would help primary care practitioners to address older people’s alcohol use.

More information Original publication



Journal article




Royal College of General Practitioners

Publication Date



Project reference: BH152196,


ageing, attitude of health personnel, drinking behaviour, harm reduction, primary health care, qualitative research