Harmful drinking is a 'middle-class phenomenon' with older, successful people at most risk, AGE UK has warned.
Although affluent middle aged people often appear to look after themselves by eating well and exercising regularly, they are actually far more likely to drink too much than their less successful peers.
UK researchers warned it was a 'hidden health and social problem' because on the outside most wealthy middle class people appeared to be living well.
"Our analysis challenges popular perceptions of who is drinking too much," said Age UK's Chief Economist , Professor Jose Iparraguirre who carried out the research .
"It suggests public health messaging is not reaching high income groups who are most at risk.
"Because this group is typically healthier than other parts of the older population, they might not realise that what they are doing is putting their health in danger."
The findings are based on responses from 9,000 over 50s who took part in the English Longitudinal Survey of Ageing. They were asked about income, educational attainment, health, physical activity levels, loneliness depression, marital status, and employment.
Current NHS guidelines advise that men drink no more than 21 units a week - roughly 10 pints of beer. Women are advised to stick to 14 units, around seven glasses of wine.
The researchers defined harmful drinking as between 22 and 50 units a week for men and 15 to 35 weekly units for women. Higher risk was quantified as 50 units for men and 35 for women. One unit represents
Analysis of the responses showed that the risk of harmful drinking peaked for men in their early 60s and then gradually tailed off.
Women on high salaries and those who had retired were more likely to drink heavily, while smoking, higher educational attainment, and good health were all linked to heightened risk in both sexes.
Although the researchers found that heavy drinking was no linked to feeling lonely or depressed, men who lived on their own were more likely to consume harmful amounts of alcohol.
A report by the think tank 2020Health found that around eight million British adults drink more than is considered safe my experts, many of whom are middle class people who regularly drink wine with their evening meal.
Women are at greater risk if they evenly share a bottle of wine with their partner because their alcohol tolerance is lower than men's.
The rise of home shopping delivery services has also been blamed for encouraging more older women to drink.
Government figures published last October showed a 65 per cent increase in the number of women over pension age beginning treatment for drink related problems in the last five years in England.
"We can sketch the problem of harmful drinking among people aged 50 or over in England as a middle class phenomenon: people in better health, higher income, with higher educational attainment and socially more active are more likely to drink at harmful levels," added Professor Jose Iparraguirre
"Our findings suggest that harmful drinking in later life is more prevalent among people who exhibit a lifestyle associated with affluence and with a 'successful' ageing process.
"Harmful drinking may then be a hidden health and social problem in otherwise successful older people."
Charities said that many middle aged older people did not realise how much they were drinking because they often did it at home.,
"Harmful drinking is a real issue for middle-aged and older people, many of whom are regularly drinking above recommended limits, often in their own homes,"
"These are the people who, if they develop alcohol related illnesses, tend to require the most complex and expensive health care due to the mental and physical problems caused by drinking too much.
Drinking too much alcohol is directly linked to over 60 medical conditions including liver disease sevenfold, mouth cancer fivefold and stroke threefold. For women, breast cancer risk doubles.
The research was published in the online journal BMJ Open.