For many retired men and women, the drinking habit that never seemed to interfere with their lives in their younger years can become an actual problem when they are faced with the leisure time that retirement brings. For other retirees, loneliness and boredom can cause them to drink more than they normally would.
It's true that retirement is something we all look forward to. It's a time for relaxation, and a chance to focus attention on hobbies, family, and other pastimes. It may seem like drinking is just a natural byproduct of retirement - another hobby that comes after years of hard work and limited time to truly relax and kick back.
Unfortunately, there are other issues that often come along with retirement that can lead to some unhealthy consequences.
Having too much free time is one of the issues. After spending decades shouldering responsibilities and being used to having others rely on you, it may feel strange and confusing to suddenly have that all disappear.
Many retirees feel a loss of purpose in their lives rather than enjoying a newfound freedom. Even keeping busy with hobbies, socializing, and family may not be enough to make an overwhelming feeling of uselessness go away. It's easy to turn to alcohol when experiencing these kinds of emotions. Many retirees are not even away they are self medicating with alcohol until it's too late.
It's interesting to note that the levels of alcoholism in adults age 55 and up is actually quite low, with 3.8 percent of those in their late 50's drinking heavily and 4.7 of those in their early 60's using alcohol often. Using alcohol for unhealthy purposes, like coping with loneliness or other emotions, is a much more common.
For those older adults who can be classified as alcoholics, nearly two thirds of them struggled with a drinking habit throughout their lives. The rest of those older adults starting drinking later in life and found that they had a problem.
In addition to retirement, here are many other life changes that a retired person must go through. Some of these include the death of a partner or friends, divorce, feelings of depression, deteriorating health, having to move from their home, and changing relationships with family members.
These changes are tough for many adults to handle and can lead to drinking. For other retirees, the positive change of moving into a new community with others their age can lead to more socializing involving heavy drinking. Oftentimes living in a retirement community can feel like a permanent vacation, where most days are spent on leisure activities and socializing.
Recognizing when an older adult has developed a drinking problem is a little bit harder as well. Because there are no longer any coworkers or family members around as much to notice, a retiree may not even realize that they're abusing alcohol.
Older adults also drive less, so it's far more unlikely for them to be involved in a DUI. There are few resources out there for increasing awareness about drinking among retirees. All too often, the issue is not talked about or misunderstood by the very people it affects.
It's unfortunate because even in small doses, alcohol can have profound effects on the health of an older drinker. Alcohol interferes with many of the medications that are commonly prescribed to patients in their 60's and 70's. Small amounts of alcohol can also affect an older person's body in different ways than in an older drinker, making it easier for them to become intoxicated.
More attention needs to be given to an issue that is a growing concern among this age group. Studies have found that older drinkers are more responsive to alcohol treatment and counseling. All we need to do is make those kinds of resources more widely available to our retirees.