Alcoholism and Drug Abuse

Retirees Need Help in Addressing Substance-Abuse Issues

Researchers say that older Americans suffering from substance abuse often do so not because of retirement alone but because of many circumstances, such as the death of loved ones, that occur at that stage of life.

Currently, close to three million Americans aged 55 and older suffer from alcohol abuse — and that is expected to increase to nearly 6 million by 2020. And the rate of illicit drug abuse in adults over 50 more than doubled between 2002 and 2013.

Published in the inaugural issue of Journal of Work, Aging and Retirement, the ten-year study was conducted by Prof. Peter A. Bamberger of Tel Aviv University’s Faculty of Management and Cornell University’s Smithers Institute, and Prof. Samuel B. Bacharach of Cornell University.

The researchers said that older adults don’t often have the skills to dealt with the vacuum left by retirement as well as other events such as ill health and the death of loves ones. The investigators said retirement was linked to depression, worry about money and feelings of purposelessness. These feelings are known to lead to substance abuse.

“We found that the conditions under which people retired — whether they were pushed into it or it was something expected, which they planned for — had great bearing on alcohol and drug habits,” said Bamberger. “The worst combination we found was among people who took early retirement from jobs they loved because they were terrified their companies were going under. Among all groups studied, this one exhibited the highest incidence of substance abuse.

“Our second major finding was that the conditions experienced once in retirement influenced alcohol and drug habits. “Even if an individual plans for retirement, he/she might not fully grasp the changes that must be made to his/her lifestyle. As a result, many people experience serious financial straits. Feeling unstable, lonely, and depressed, it isn’t surprising perhaps — but it is unfortunate — that many retirees look to alcohol or drugs for comfort.”

The researchers urged that screenings and brief interventions be used to identify behavioral changes that could lead to substance abuse. “Sometimes awareness alone is enough to bring about positive change,” said Bamberger. “Even short phone calls or brief Internet-based feedback can be so instrumental. The other way of reversing this trend is to provide ways of coping with the stresses of retirement. Retirement groups and mentors are often able to pick up on signs of deterioration before they become a problem.”

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