Retirement and substance abuse
A recent study shows that nearly three million Americans who are 55 and older struggle with alcohol abuse. This number is expected to double by the end of the decade. Additionally, in the span of 10 years substance abuse has also doubled, with many of the users being retirees. The use of drugs and alcohol among seniors is believed to be related to distressing events such as the passing away of loved ones and other factors.
The Cornell University study determined retired adults often have insufficient coping skills to manage perceived fears, exercise natural emotional responses to retirement and deal with the reality of milestones. Different causes for use include:
- Financial stress
- Marital strain
- Lack of purpose
- Fear of aging
- Grief if they have lost someone that was close to them
- Cognitive decline that may lead to a lack of self control
- Entitlement — feeling as though they worked hard for much of their life and he or she has earned the right to reward themselves with recreational use
- Using in order to mask health decline
Such behaviors may lead to a number of negative consequences for the retiree. This may include greater odds of physical or mental harm from the alcohol or controlled substance, as the body is less able to cope with the effects they create. Another concern is that a retired person may be able to more easily hide their drug or alcohol abuse as they don’t have to hide from coworkers or other professionals.
Prevention and Intervention
There are several methods to increase awareness and prevention that retirees and loved ones can be mindful of before the individual requires treatment. These methods can help halt retirement from shifting from celebration to overuse and abuse. The individual may need to receive regular health screenings as a precaution. An intervention may also be helpful in curtailing behavior so that the retiree does not succumb to substance abuse. A retirement group may also prove helpful in allowing senior citizens to receive the support, socialization and recreation that most people need to keep their mood up.
Another option is for the sufferer and loved ones to better educate themselves about what changes point to the natural aging process and what changes instead indicate substance abuse or addiction. Being able to recognize these symptoms can make a huge difference as treatment can be found early on, preventing the development of serious health risks. There will be a number of symptoms to watch for that will indicate a substance abuse problem including:
- decline in personal appearance or hygiene
- antagonistic or depressed mood swings
- loss of interest in activities that they had previously enjoyed
- alcohol consumption despite warnings of the dangers of combining with medication
- presence of drug paraphernalia not used for medical purposes
Loved ones who are trying to help an older adult in such a situation should consult a medical professional about the needs of the retiree. The friend or family member should be sure to list certain significant information such as a general health history of the retiree, along with the changes in their lifestyle before or after the substance abuse. When speaking with the sufferer, friends and family should make sure to remain respectful and not be quick to criticize. Be specific about what your concerns are, while not using terms that he or she may view as labeling.
Loved ones will want to encourage healthy habits such as exercise, picking up a hobby or maintaining a balanced diet to improve mood without substances. Also, relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation may also be a method the individual could find means to cope without resorting to abuse or falling prey to an addiction.
To learn more about treatment for substance abuse you can call Sovereign Health Group at 888-530-4614 to speak to a member of our team.
Contributed by Sovereign Health Writer, Ryan McMaster