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Meaning and purpose in life reduces problem drinking in older age

Posted 28 Nov 2017

Recent research suggests that the sorts of lifestyle factors promoted in Western Australia’s Act-Belong-Commit mental health promotion campaign could contribute to reductions in problem drinking in older adults. While most Australians enjoy the occasional beer or glass of wine, with no risk to their health, some Australians’ drinking habits are harmful.

64 year-old Michael Cheffins of Kalamunda says it’s his strong community involvement that decreases his desire to have any more than a maximum of two glasses of wine per month.

“I’m spending around 20 hours a week doing things outside of work” says Mr Cheffins, who is heavily involved in multiple community groups including music group the Black Chooks, the A Kappella Munda choir, and the annual Kalamunda Zig Zag Festival.

“When there is so much going on in your life, you realise that drinking alcohol doesn’t actually add any value.”

Mr Cheffins says there were times in life when he found himself coming home and sitting down with a beer after work every day, “I think that pattern can start off fairly innocuously and become a habit”.

“It’s pretty simple, I started to do things instead, and having a drink wasn’t the focus of my day”

Campaign Manager Amberlee Nicholas said “Act-Belong-Commit encourages everyone to think proactively about looking after their mental health and wellbeing”. “We know that going to films, plays or concerts, reading books, playing games, participating in sport and recreation, doing DIY projects around the home, spending time with family and volunteering for a good cause, help to keep us alert, engaged and fulfilled”.

“Previous research has shown that the more people participate in activities indicative of acting, belonging and committing, the lower their risk of developing mental health problems such as anxiety, depression and cognitive decline. This new research suggests such activity can also lower the risk of problem drinking”.

Professor Rob Donovan, founder of the campaign and UWA Adjunct Professor said “These results are consistent with other research showing that loneliness and isolation are associated with problem drinking, including using alcohol to deal with stress. Our results indicate that keeping active, having supportive social networks and engaging in meaningful enjoyable activities not only enhance wellbeing, but protect against using alcohol or other substances to cope with stressors in life”.

Full article:

Santini et al. ‘The association between Act-Belong-Commit indicators and problem drinking among older Irish adults: Findings from a prospective analysis of the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA)’. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 180 (2017) 323–331.


Photo: Michael Cheffins on the Main Soundshell Stage for the 2016 Act-Belong-Commit Zig Zag Festival introducing the other members of the Festival organising team to the crowd. (Picture by Gillian Berry)