Fri Oct 28 15:54:29 SAST 2016

When booze fills the empty nest

JOE SHUTE | 19 October, 2016 08:15
Phil Collins
Image by: Bang Showbiz

For Phil Collins it started at home in the long afternoons, drinking a glass of two or wine in front of the England versus West Indies Test match. In 2011 the former Genesis singer had decided to retire from music and move to Switzerland to devote himself to his family.

"I stopped work because I wanted to be a dad at home," he said in a press conference on Monday in which he announced a comeback tour. "As bad luck would have it, as soon as I retired, my family split up. I didn't have anyone to go home to. That's why I started drinking."

Instead he found himself bored and kicking his heels alone on the shores of Lake Geneva. Collins never previously suffered from a reliance on alcohol - even in the heady decades where he revelled in the intemperate world of show business. But after divorcing his third wife Orianne (with whom he has two sons aged 15 and 11 and has since been reunited) he started drinking in earnest.

Collins, 65, says he initially justified the drinking by believing "I deserved a break in my life where I could do anything, whatever I wanted".

In a separate extract from his new memoir Not Dead Yet, out later this month, he writes: "It took me until the age of 55 to become an alcoholic. I got through the heady 1960s, the trippy 1970s, the imperial 1980s, the busy 1990s. I was retired, content, and then I fell. Because I suddenly had too much time on my hands."

The afternoon glass of wine turned into a couple of bottles. Before long he was downing vodka straight from the bottle for breakfast. Eventually he ended up in a Swiss intensive care with acute pancreatitis. He remembers lying on what well might have been his deathbed, listening to doctors enquire with the family nanny whether or not his will was in order.

Today Collins is straightened out and (almost) on the wagon - he still permits himself the odd glass of wine but has eschewed spirits for the past three years. His story of rapid decline and fall, though, is one that resonates with many of his age.

Increasingly, the over-50s are becoming society's great problem drinkers. Retired, wealthy and bored after their children have long left home, many can relate to the same curse that afflicted Collins. There is even a cocktail recipe known as the "empty nester": part Cabernet Sauvignon, part tequila, part triple sec, part lime juice.

A major study of more than 9000 people last year concluded that drinking among the over-50s had become a hidden "middle-class" phenomenon, with the higher somebody's income the more at risk they are.

"The baby boomers have very liberal attitudes towards alcohol," says Tony Rao, a consultant psychiatrist and an expert in substance misuse among the older population. "Those who are now in their mid-50s and above have very different attitudes towards drinking compared with the puritanical youth of today who are giving up everything. It is a bit of a time-bomb."

Rao now increasingly sees those who have retired from lucrative careers. He says he often encounters middle-class and middle-aged couples who have shared a bottle of wine together every night for 20 years and developed serious health problems in the process.

Even problem drinkers who never get to the stage that Phil Collins did, can find themselves lying on a hospital bed.

"They develop long-term harms like cancer, a stroke, and high blood pressure," Rao says. "It's not until something happens with them that they realise it's too late."

- ©The Daily Telegraph


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