While many may picture toasting the end of our working days with a celebratory drink, we don’t typically think about the rise and risks of alcohol abuse during our retirement years. However, a growing population of retirees is struggling with alcoholism. It is estimated that the percentage of heavy drinkers increases by nearly 5% within one year of retiring.
Reasons Why People Drink More in Retirement
There are many reasons why people drink more in retirement. Some of them are psychological, and some of them are social.
One of the most common psychological reasons is boredom. When people retire, they often have a lot of free time. If they do not have any hobbies, it is easy to become bored and restless. Drinking can be a way to cope with these feelings.
Let’s look at this and the many other reasons why those in retirement can fall into alcoholism’s clutches.
Just as there is social pressure to drink when you’re younger, there is also social pressure to drink when you’re older. In many cultures, drinking alcohol is seen as a way to relax and have fun.
Addiction is rampant in retirement villages and estates. Within these communities, it is estimated that 62% of people consume alcohol, with 13% being considered heavy drinkers. There is often a culture of drinking, which can be hard to avoid if precautions are not taken. Socially drinking can become a way of life, with few other distractions to keep retirees busy.
Another reason why people drink more in retirement is to avoid feeling purposeless. When working, people have a sense of purpose. They get up every day and go to work, knowing they’re doing something that matters or providing for their family at the very least.
When someone retires, that sense of purpose can disappear. Suddenly, they don’t have anything to do all day. Depression and anxiety can quickly develop, and drinking may be a way some cope with those feelings.
Boredom also plays an important role here. With far less to do during retirement, at least in a professional sense, pouring a drink to mix things up is relatively easy. For many, this becomes their excitement for the day, often carrying on into the evening.
Also, it’s important to consider the sense of purposelessness that comes with losing a spouse in one’s golden years. People may turn to alcohol to deal with the feeling of loss and the relatively directionless place they find themselves.
Past Experiences or Life Traumas
Drinking can be a way to deal with past trauma or painful experiences. It is common to see this in people who have experienced abuse or neglect.
People who have suffered trauma often try to escape the negative feelings associated with the event or experience. For some, that could mean turning to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain. The isolation often associated with retirement brings these negative emotions to the forefront. A person’s means to escape can quickly develop into a dependence and then an addiction.
The best way to avoid developing an addiction in this way is to address the trauma with a therapist. Although it may be painful, trying to avoid the feelings associated with one’s past is nearly impossible. They must talk to a professional and learn how to process the event and the negative emotions through healthy means.
Depression is another common psychological reason why people drink more in retirement. There are many reasons that depression can be found in someone who has recently retired, including a loss of purpose, facing significant change, and losing friends and loved ones.
Health issues become a lot more common as people age as well. Around 80% of older adults have at least one chronic health problem, and 50% have two or more. Depression is more commonly found in people who have other chronic illnesses or that have limited functionality.
Isolation also becomes more common as kids grow up and get immersed in their own family life and spouses pass away. Alcohol is an easy way to stave off these emotions for people in retirement. Both depression and addiction feed off the loneliness and negative feelings that come with it.
Retirement can also be a time of stress in marriages. Suddenly, an elderly couple is at home all day, every day. Extended periods of time together can lead to arguments and conflict, which can be challenging to handle.
For some people, drinking alcohol can be a way to cope with this stress. It can help them relax and forget their problems for a while. But of course, this is only temporary and can lead to further problems.
Dealing with marital stress without alcohol is essential. To handle stress healthily, couples may need to find new hobbies and interests that they can do together. They may also need to spend more time communicating with each other or seek counseling from a therapist or marriage counselor.
Finally, it’s essential to consider the role of financial stress in retirement. For many people, retirement can be a time of financial insecurity. Roughly one in three older adults is economically insecure.
Once retired, many people live on a fixed income. Their health has deteriorated, and they frequently have medical bills to pay. For future generations, a pension will not be as common, making handling finances even more difficult. These things can lead to financial stress, which can lead to excessive drinking.
Those in retirement must find ways to deal with financial stress, including budgeting, seeking help from a financial advisor, or finding new sources of income. Turning to alcohol as a solution only causes these problems to get worse.
When Drinking More Becomes a Drinking Problem
While moderate drinking isn’t a concern for many adults, it becomes a severe issue when it gets out of control. For some people, retirement is the beginning of their drinking problems.
Here are common signs and symptoms of each stage of alcoholism. Knowing what to look for can help stop addiction before it happens by seeking proper treatment.
Stage 1: Occasional Abuse and Binge Drinking
The first stage of alcoholism involves initial experimentation with alcohol. These people are new to all types of alcohol and are likely to test the limits of how much they can consume. Stage one of alcoholism is often seen in younger adults. While they may not drink frequently, they consume large amounts or binge drink when they do.
Stage 2: Increased Drinking
As people become more familiar with alcohol, they can transition to stage two. Instead of binge drinking at parties, they drink smaller amounts more often. A few drinks become a leisure activity to relax alone rather than a social event. While some people may pair a glass of red wine with a nice meal, it becomes a cause for concern when someone drinks to change how they feel.
Stage 3: Problem Drinking
In stage 3, drinking to hide how someone feels becomes a habit. These people become depressed, anxious, and start losing sleep. Alcohol starts being the solution to all of their problems and begins to affect their daily lives. Their drinking may cause problems with their relationships, to suddenly switch friend groups, and reduce social activities.
Stage 4: Alcohol Dependence
At this stage, a person becomes dependent on alcohol but may not yet be addicted. People in stage 4 have alcohol take over their daily routines. Although they are aware of its harmful effects, they cannot control their consumption rate. They need to drink more alcohol to get the same feeling they did before. A significant sign of alcohol dependence is seen in withdrawal symptoms when one goes a day without drinking. Signs include:
- Heavy sweating
- Rapid heartbeat
- Nausea (unrelated to a hangover)
- Body tremors
- Difficulty sleeping
- Severe irritability
Stage 5: Addiction and Alcoholism
Addiction is the final stage of alcoholism. A person that is addicted to alcohol no longer drinks for pleasure. They have developed a psychological and physical need to drink. Compulsive behaviors are commonly seen in people with alcohol addiction. They drink throughout the day, no matter where they are.
Many people struggling with alcohol issues do not realize they have a problem. They often do not have people around them who can tell them how severe an issue they have.
It can be challenging to convince an older person to attend addiction treatment, even when the signs of a problem are clear. Many feel that they are too old to participate in inpatient treatment or that it is too late to change their habits.
But acknowledging an addiction to alcohol is the first step to recovery.
Seeking help from addiction treatment and recovery professionals or a trusted medical provider can help clarify what to do next.
Each person’s level of care and treatment plan will be relative to their needs. There are several levels where a person’s recovery journey could start, such as detoxification, residential, and outpatient services. A consultation allows professionals to assess the type of rehab program that best fits each individual.
Despite being the most common addictive substance, detoxing from alcohol can be dangerous if not supervised by a medical professional. While it may seem easy to quit drinking alone, self-detox is never recommended due to the severe health risks of alcohol withdrawal, especially for long-term drinkers.
Has your drinking become out of control? Talk to our recovery experts today to receive a confidential consultation. Call 1-888-SOBER-40 and begin your road to recovery.