Overdoing the Retirement Toasts

Researchers find that some seniors turn to alcohol after leaving the workplace.

Close to 3 million Americans aged 55 and older suffer from alcohol abuse—and this figure is expected to reach nearly 6 million by 2020.

Many of the older Americans suffering from substance abuse are retired. But according to research from Tel Aviv University, it is not retirement alone that leads to drug and alcohol abuse, but rather a host of other circumstances that often coincide with leaving the workforce.

Tel Aviv University Prof. Peter A. Bamberger and Prof. Samuel B. Bacharach of Cornell University published their findings in an article, "Winding Down and Boozing Up: The Complex Link Between Retirement and Alcohol Misuse," which appeared in the journal Work, Aging and Retirement.

Other Factors Tied With Alcohol Abuse

According to the study, older adults often lack the skills required to cope with the sudden vacuum produced by retirement as well as events common to later life—such as deteriorating health and the death of spouses and friends. The research also pointed to the impact of circumstances and conditions of retirement on feelings of depression, purposelessness and financial strain, which 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 Prof. 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."

Prof. Bamberger continued, "Our second major finding was that the conditions experienced once in retirement influenced alcohol and drug habits. Even if an individual plans for retirement, they may not fully grasp the changes that must be made to their lifestyle. As a result, many people experience serious financial straits. It isn't surprising perhaps—but it is unfortunate—that feeling unstable, lonely and depressed, many retirees look to alcohol or drugs for comfort."

The 10-year study, conducted as an annual phone-based survey of 1,200 service, construction and manufacturing workers aged 52–75, also found that retirement can cause marital strain, and this too may precipitate or exacerbate substance misuse or abuse.

Avoiding the Slide Into Alcohol Abuse

Much can be done to prevent retirees from bottoming out, including screening and brief interventions aimed at identifying behavioral changes that could lead to substance abuse. "Sometimes awareness alone is enough to bring about positive change," said Prof. 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."

Source: American Friends of Tel Aviv University (www.aftau.org). The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Professors Bamberger and Bacharach also co-authored Retirement and the Hidden Epidemic (Oxford University Press, 2014), a layman's summary of their many studies on this subject.

April Is Alcohol Awareness Month

Since 1987, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (www.ncadd.org) has been sponsoring this event, which is designed to raise public awareness about the use of alcohol and how it may be affecting individuals, families and the community. The organization offers information about seniors and alcohol on their website.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism offers consumer information about alcohol consumption, alcohol cessation and the special concerns of older adults.

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