Reaching the milestone of retirement is cause for celebration. While retiring is a major accomplishment, it’s also a major life transition that could become the catalyst for developing a substance use disorder.
Whether you’ve struggled with substance abuse in the past or find yourself using drugs or alcohol for the first time after retirement, addiction can pose a real threat to the retired population. In this article, we’ll look at the most common triggers for substance use in adults who have reached retirement age, plus steps you can take to prevent drug and alcohol abuse later in life.
What are the risks of substance use disorders during retirement?
Late-onset addictions are not unheard of during retirement. According to a 2018 study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, nearly one million adults aged 60 and older were affected by a diagnosable sustenance use disorder.
Various factors play into the high number of older adults who abuse drugs and alcohol. Findings from a study in Addictive Behaviors indicate a positive link between retirement and the severity of addiction.
If you’ve recently retired or are approaching that milestone, there are plenty of actions you can take to prevent relapse or developing a new substance use disorder. First, you’ll want to know what events or situations could trigger a relapse or the initial onset of an addiction.
What can trigger substance use disorders during retirement?
Retirement signals a sudden change in a lifestyle that generally has been well-established for decades. If your normal routine shifts dramatically in retirement, here are some triggers to look out for.
Past addiction resurfacing
If you’ve struggled with substance abuse in the past, you may be more likely to feel urges to use substances as you adjust to this new lifestyle. You may have more time on your hands, more opportunities to socialize with old friends or fewer obligations as your children become more independent.
Even if you’ve been sober for many years, your sobriety can be disrupted by a major life transition. For numerous reasons, a past substance use disorder can resurface when you reach retirement age, so being on guard against cravings and idle time will be essential to avoid relapse.
Too much free time
A decrease in structured time is one of the most obvious triggers to a first time or worsening substance use disorder. If you’ve grown accustomed to working 40, 50 or even 60+ hours per week, a sudden shift to a totally open calendar can feel daunting.
Free time offers an opportunity for self-assessment and reflection, as you ponder the trajectory of both your career and personal life over the previous decades. This can invite a flood of emotions, and in order to cope with them, one might turn to drug use and alcohol.
Loss of identity and purpose
It’s likely that your career contributed somewhat to your overall sense of identity. In some cases, the quest for success may have become all-consuming, leaving you feeling empty after leaving the workforce. However, even those with a balanced mindset about their job may feel a loss of purpose after retiring.
The ability to retire may indicate wealth or success, but finding meaning after leaving a job can bring peace and purpose. Finding activities that are fruitful to you will be a game-changer at this stage.
Increasing medical needs
As we get older, increasing medical concerns are often par for the course. Whether you undergo surgery or require medication for pain management in daily life, it’s likely you’ll encounter prescription medications such as opioids at some point in your adult life.
Taking prescription medications is part of a comprehensive care plan for many conditions, but it’s wise to remain cautious about the risk of addiction to these drugs in retirement. If you have concerns that you’re developing a tolerance or dependence to your medication, or if you’re experiencing negative side effects, always talk with your doctor.
Ways to avoid addiction during retirement
Ideally, retirement is a joyful time, filled with meaningful pursuits. In addition to knowing the triggers for substance use in retirement-aged adults, here are some ways to guarantee that you’re prioritizing enjoying your life in a healthy manner rather than succumbing to drugs and alcohol.
1. Create a schedule for yourself
Change is hard. Easing yourself into a new life of leisure can make the transition less difficult. Try scheduling almost a full work week of activities in your first month of retirement. Then, scale back a few hours a week. Soon you’ll find a new rhythm that keeps you occupied, yet allows time to slow down and rest.
2. Find meaningful hobbies
It’s just as important to fill your schedule in regards to time as it is to fill it with meaning. Consider picking up a new hobby or spending more time on an established one, such as gardening, volunteering, spending time with grandkids, exercising or creating.
3. Get outside
Emotions such as loneliness, depression and worthlessness can contribute to an addiction. Spending time outdoors is a natural way to help you beat the blues. A study in the journal Issues in Mental Health Nursing found that even 10 minutes of sunshine a day can help fight off depression.
4. Talk to a therapist
Major life transitions such as retirement often call for the aid of a mental health professional. A licensed professional can help you process your successes and challenges in both work and life and cope with any new emotions that arise in retirement.
Bluff Augusta provides a full continuum of addiction recovery care with the compassionate support you’re looking for. Call 844-242-0806 today to make an appointment.