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Depressed Senior CitizenDo Seniors and Retirees Abuse Drugs or Alcohol Out of Boredom?

Most Americans cannot wait until the day they get out of the rat race and retire, and many may plan and prepare for this day their whole life. Unfortunately, life’s circumstances may put a crimp in well-laid retirement plans. Life changes like divorce, death, or adapting to a decrease in income can make retirement challenging, at the very least.

For some, retirement may be disappointing — even depressing. Loneliness, despair, and boredom may creep in if the retiree fails to stay actively engaged with others — in and out of the home. Unfortunately, today’s retirees are from a generation that does not reach out for support or help when needed. Many choose to cope with their situation independently. Often the result is unhealthy coping strategies to simply get through the day. It is estimated that 10% of those addicted to alcohol in this country are over the age of 65, accounting for nearly 80,000 alcoholics in the U.S. With numbers like that, this trend is becoming a social problem that warrants new solutions, services, and systems to provide help for alcoholics in this demographic.

Do retired seniors abuse drugs and alcohol because of boredom? Consider the following:

Addiction Complicates Other Health Conditions

There are serious health issues that can emerge from drinking over time. According to WebMD, the tolls of alcohol on aging include physical changes, like the condition and appearance of the skin, as well as risks of dehydration, organ failure, slowed cognitive function, and a weakening of the immune system. Using drugs or alcohol also increases risks for dementia and has a direct impact on heart health. Further research indicates that heavy alcohol consumption contributes to conditions like diabetes, ulcers, high blood pressure, and chronic pain — as well as mental health disorders and memory loss.

Addiction is a Symptom of Something Else

Remember that when it comes to seniors and alcohol or drug abuse, it is often a sign of an underlying condition or situation. Sure, at first retirees may drink out of sheer opportunity or to fill free time. It may evolve into a habit that you engage in when times are tough or to adapt and adjust to your new life. Over time, the impacts of addiction on health and wellness can be devastating. If you feel a need to drink, why? What is it that is really going on? Sometimes the real-life stressors of getting older — including financial challenges, poor health, job loss, caregiver responsibilities, or chronic pain — create circumstances and situations that appear hopeless. In those situations, someone may ask themselves: Why not drink? Dig a little and find out what is going on, first, before trying to intervene. Alcohol or drug use may be a bandage for something much deeper.

Addiction is Easy to Miss

You may think that it would be easy to tell if someone close to you was using drugs or alcohol. The truth is, it is easier for retired seniors to hide signs of any problem as they may stay in, at home, and engage less with those around them. Even heavy drinkers or drug abusers are frequently able to fly under the radar — until an issue related to their addiction arises, which it almost always inevitably does. Family providers and practitioners may write off signs of addiction as being related to age, like unsteady gait or slurred speech, for example. 

Addiction Compromises Autonomy

One of the biggest threats against the independence of the aging population is the risk of falls. It is estimated that around 25% of all seniors fall once or more each year. Falls can contribute to a decline in overall health and mobility due to injuries and age-related complications. Some seniors may never recover from a nasty fall, losing the ability to live independently and care for themselves. Preventing falls is key in maintaining health and wellness; drugs and alcohol can exacerbate the risk of a stumble, tumble, or slip — especially for someone over 65.

Combat the Loneliness

Drugs and alcohol are often a way to cope with loneliness and fill a void in life. In fact, substance abuse is a coping mechanism, albeit an unhealthy one. Many times, the goals of addiction treatment are to teach and install new, healthier coping strategies for when feelings of loneliness — or other trying times — strike.

One way that many seniors have been able to combat fear and loneliness is with pet-assisted or animal therapy. Support animals provide a companion that is permitted anywhere the owner or handler goes — and that is particularly in-tune with their owner’s habits, needs, and schedule. Support and therapy animals are far more than pets; they are often the key to overcoming and coping with difficult situations without resorting to drinking or using drugs.

It Comes Down to PurposeIt Comes Down to Purpose

Coping with the changes that age brings can be difficult. Retirement is often a snapshot of that life change when age commands that you go home and stop working. For many, this will be a struggle. Work often provides a sense of identity; without it, who will you be? Furthermore, work offers a sense of purpose — a reason to get up and get out of bed in the morning. Those that seem to thrive in retirement often have hobbies, volunteering, civic involvement, and, yes, jobs. Retirement may include part-time work for self-fulfillment and socialization.

Intervene with Love and Boundaries

Unless you are a professional, you need help intervening with your loved one. Seniors may feel ganged-up on and resist any attempts to discuss the situation openly. If your loved one’s drinking or drug use has gotten to a point where it impacts your life, it is time to set firm boundaries and, in many instances, an ultimatum.

In some cases, boredom may cause retired seniors to drink or do drugs, but it’s only one reason. A significant percentage of retired seniors struggle with drug or alcohol issues, stemming from any number of potential reasons. No matter what, substance abuse presents health risks and hazards, but older individuals may be more impacted by the tolls of addiction.

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