Alcoholism and Retirees

Alcoholism and Retirees

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Alcoholism in retirement, often call late-onset alcoholism, is more common than one might think and is the most common form of substance abuse in the elderly.  Research has found that retirement can be a potential trigger for new or increased alcohol-use disorders among older, retired adults.

There can be many causes for developing alcoholism after retirement - loneliness, sadness, boredom, lack of purpose, limited social network, newly acquired leisure time, lack of status, financial stress, marital conflict, etc.

The National institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the American Geriatrics Society recommend no more than seven drinks a week and/or two drinks per one occasion for adults over 65.  Anything above those levels is considered “at-risk” drinking, which could cause relationship problems or health complications such as hypertension, damage to the heart and liver, and being more prone to accidents.

However, determining if one is consuming too much alcohol can be tricky.  It can be realized by the individual themselves, or their friends or loved ones may point it out.  If you are unsure, some questions to ask yourself about your drinking habits include:

  • Have you thought you may need to cut back on your drinking?
  • Do you find yourself drinking earlier than you used to?
  • Have you awakened after drinking and cannot remember parts of where you were or what happened (blackout)?
  • Do you feel out of sorts the next morning (headache, nausea or vomiting, dizzy, foggy)?
  • Do you need a drink (“hair-of-the-dog) to recover from a hangover?
  • Are others becoming upset or annoyed by your behavior when you drink?
  • Are you being invited out less due to your behavior when you drink?
  • Are you spending more and more money on alcoholic beverages?
  • Do you drink alone?
  • Is your health becoming compromised by drinking (blood sugar and blood pressure too high, lack of appetite, gout flaring up, etc.)?

There are websites that can offer guidance to help identify alcohol abuse.  A couple of them are the American Federation for Aging Research and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation.

As we age after retirement, it is important to recognize if we are drinking more than we should be.  Happy Hours become more common and before we know it, drinking can quickly accelerate and get out of hand.  For this reason, it is important that our lives have meaning after retirement.  That could mean joining clubs that involve your interests such as card playing, gardening, quilting, sewing, computer skills, etc.  Not only will you be doing something you enjoy, but you will also meet new people and make new friends.  If your job was what gave meaning to your life, it is vital that you find a new meaning to fill that void.

American Addiction Centers tell us that certain retired people are more at risk of developing alcoholism than others:

  • Those who have ever previously had a problem with alcohol or drug use.
  • Those who have suffered bereavement.
  • Anyone with mental health problems such as depression.
  • Those who live alone or feel isolated from their community.
  • Men seem to be more likely to fall into substance abuse in retirement.
  • Those individuals who are dealing with a great deal of boredom since they retired.
  • Anyone who has a family history of substance abuse.
  • Those who are dealing with financial hardship in retirement.
  • If people look back on their life and feel a sense of disappointment, they may be tempted to turn to alcohol and drugs for solace.

If you experience any of the at-risk signs or symptoms of alcoholism listed above, it is important to address this immediately.  Speak with your physician and contact one or more of the many resources that may help you:

  • Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Mothers Against Drunk Driving
  • Al-Anon and Alateen (if you are affected by someone else’s drinking)
  • SMART Recovery
  • Secular Organizations for Sobriety
  • Women for Sobriety
  • Volunteers of America
  • StepChat
  • National Institutes of Health
  • National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services