The Perils of Addiction and Alcoholism in Retirement

Addiction After Retirement

Michelle Rosenker

August 30, 2019

In the U.S., nearly 2.5 million people 65 and older are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Technically known as the elderly population, this group of individuals faces unique challenges and experiences that lend themselves to the development of addiction.

Unlike young adults or even middle-aged adults, the elderly population more frequently experiences physical pain and other health ailments, including psychological health problems like dementia. For a large portion of the elderly population, these serve as the drivers behind their addictions. For others, however, their substance abuse is more closely linked to their retirement.

The Link Between Retirement and Addiction

Retirement is a cause for celebration for most, as it represents the end of a major chapter in their life as well as the beginning of a new one. It is a time where individuals can reflect on their careers as well as start looking forward to what they are going to do next. Unfortunately, retirement can be a challenging concept and can cause some people to find themselves in the thick of substance abuse. But why?

It can be easy to think that retirement is a sort of utopia, but that is not always the reality. Instead, retirement can lead to risk factors that can trigger the onset of substance abuse and subsequent addiction.

Difficulty finding purpose

When someone maintains a career for the better majority of his or her life, that career becomes part of their identity. So when the time comes to retire, that person is not only saying goodbye to the everyday tasks related to that job, but he or she is also parting ways with something that is part of him or herself. This can be unsettling to say the least, as it can be difficult for someone to find purpose in his or her life outside of his or her career.

And while there are certainly several opportunities for elderly and retired individuals to be purposeful in their lives, they are often ready to slow things down, rather than start something from scratch that fulfills them in the same way that their job once did. This unrest can easily influence one’s decision to begin drinking or experimenting with drugs, however if that use continues, addiction can develop.

Financial challenges

Going into retirement is sort of like jumping off the deep end in many ways, especially when it comes to finances. Now is the time for retirees to live off of their earnings, which can be anxiety-provoking for some, considering there is no more income. Feeling that pressure to maintain a certain budget or worrying about running out of money are real concerns for those who are retired.

The concern that stems from one’s finances in retirement can easily become overwhelming to a point where an individual uses drugs or alcohol to take the pressure off. If the feelings surrounding one’s financial situation in retirement are not addressed, substance abuse can continue and become an addiction.

Involuntary retirement

Some people, like veterans, might find themselves forced to retire from their careers before they planned on doing so. This can be caused due to budget cuts, political issues, and even because of one’s age. When forced into retirement, it can be easy for individuals to feel angry about what occurred at their job, causing them to want to act out, possibly by using drugs or alcohol. But what can be most concerning for those who retired voluntarily is how they will continue to keep up the lifestyle that they want for themselves. This can include anxiety pertaining to money, 401Ks, and pensions, as well as fear regarding their healthcare.

Going into the unknown without a steady plan put in place can be the last thing that someone near the end of their career wants to focus on. Drowning out that fear through substance abuse can become common practice, however adding substance abuse to a situation that is already unsteady can make everything much worse.

Lack of socialization

Many people retire and go off and do things with their spouses, friends, family, and other loved ones and are fulfilled in that. However, not everyone has a lot of people in their lives outside of those that they work with.

When a person stops working for good, the socialization that he or she was receiving is suddenly gone, which can leave him or her feeling extremely lonely. Unfortunately, loneliness is one of the top causes of substance abuse in elderly individuals, as this group of people not only experiences retirement, but also health problems that make it harder for them to be active enough to socialize much.


How Can New Retirees Safeguard Against Addiction?

Retirement can be a wonderful part of one’s life, but it is not something that people should wing when the time comes. Proper planning for retirement can alleviate unnecessary stressors that could trigger substance abuse. Retirees can do a number of different things in their retirement to safeguard themselves against turning to the abuse of drugs or alcohol to cope. Some of these safeguards include:

  • Participate in activities and develop hobbies
  • Regularly make plans with friends or loved ones to avoid loneliness
  • Set up appointments with a therapist to help navigate this transition
  • Practice good eating habits, get enough rest, and exercise (even if it is just a walk around the block)
  • If there is a desire to keep working but at a minimal rate, find a job that does not require full-time commitment

Simply being aware that retiring is a major transition can prepare individuals for what may lie ahead. Putting in place some of the above listed safeguards can help new retirees avoid getting to a place where drinking and using drugs seems like a good option.

Get Help at JourneyPure Elizabethtown

You do not need to struggle with a substance use disorder, as there are plenty of treatment options available to you. If you are ready to stop using for good, reach out to JourneyPure Elizabethtown. We can help you start your transformation into a life of recovery.