A new study published in BMJ Open has found there’s a drinking problem among older men in the UK, with over one in five of them drinking alcohol at excessive levels detrimental to their health.

For the study, nearly 28,000 people aged 65 and over (mostly white or Irish) gave the researchers access to their health records. Of them, 9,248 were identified as the oldest drinkers, and 1,980 (21 percent) of these were found to drink at unsafe levels. Excessive alcohol consumption was defined as greater than 21 units per week for men and 14 units per week for women. In layman’s terms, a pint of beer would be about 2.3 units of alcohol, while a 750-milliliter bottle of wine would be 9 units.

“As the Baby Boomer generation become seniors, they represent an ever-increasing population of older people drinking at levels that pose a risk to their health,” said Dr. Tony Rao, the lead author of the study and lecturer in the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience at King’s College London, in a statement. “This study shows the need for greater awareness of the potential for alcohol-related harm in older people, particularly those of higher socioeconomic status, who may suffer the consequences of ill health from alcohol at an earlier age than those in previous generations.”

With 21 percent of older seniors drinking above the safety limit, this group drank more than the general population, in which 20 percent of men and nine percent of women are believed to drink unsafe amounts of alcohol, according to the study. "The reason for this remains unclear, but may be attributable to an older population of Irish ethnicity whose proportion is three times higher than the UK population," the researchers wrote.

The study found that the top five percent of heavy-drinking men and women were downing more than 49 units and 23 units per week, respectively. Men were also more likely to drink excessively than women, and the closer participants were to 65, the more likely they were to drink. Men and women who went beyond the recommended “safe” limits were also found to have greater anxiety and smoked more tobacco when compared to those who didn’t drink or drank within the recommended limits.

According to the results, those most at risk of drinking excessively tended to be white, British, and wealthier. The researchers suggest that paying attention to “young older” males would help to inform health policy and aid in treating the effects of unsafe levels of drinking, like liver disease, neurological damage, and cirrhosis.

Source: Rao R, Schofield P, Ashworth M. Alcohol use, socioeconomic deprivation and ethnicity in older people. BMJ Open. 2015.