Problematic substance use and addiction are issues that can affect people through a broad range of life stages. Not surprisingly, much of the research and discussion around these issues focus on the working-age population (i.e. the workforce), that is to say, people roughly 15 to 64 years old.
But as individuals age out of the workforce, their health and lives may change in ways that increase their risk for problematic substance use and addiction. Retirement is important to think about in this context, especially given how steadily Canada’s population is aging. Almost one-fifth of Canadians are 65+ years old, and that percentage is only expected to increase.
In this article, we look at some of the nuances of addiction and problematic substance use in retirement-aged adults, as well as ways to support retired people in living healthy lives free of addiction and problematic substance use.
What Makes Retired People Susceptible To Substance Use And Addiction?
Those who’ve reached retirement may be more susceptible to problematic substance use and addiction for a number of reasons.
For starters, the transition to retirement can be difficult for many people, as it can be a time of major changes. These changes often include a decrease in both social connections and physical activity—two important mitigating factors against addiction and problematic substance use. What’s more, these life changes may lead some people to experience a loss of identity, feelings of isolation, or depression and anxiety. All of which can increase the risk of problematic substance use and addiction.
Additionally, retired individuals may find themselves with more time on their hands. Thus, may be looking for ways to cope with newfound experiences of boredom or loneliness. While substance use doesn’t deal with the root cause of these feelings, it can provide a temporary escape from them that can be very enticing.
Finally, retired people may also be more particularly susceptible to prescription drug addiction. Simply by the nature of aging, associated chronic health conditions, and an increased need for prescription medication,
Many prescription medications, especially ones meant for pain relief, can be highly addictive when taken in larger doses than prescribed or over an extended period of time. It’s important for individuals to be informed of these risks, to review prescriptions with healthcare professionals on an ongoing basis, and to inform their doctors of any side effects of medications or deviations from the prescription schedule.
Mitigating Against Addiction In Retirement
Taking charge of our health and life is key to increasing the quality of life and mitigating against addiction. Here are some steps you can take to prevent problematic substance use in retirement.
- Maintain healthy habits: Eating well, exercising regularly, and getting adequate sleep can all help reduce the risk of problematic substance use.
- Stay active and engaged: Staying active and engaged through hobbies, social activities, continued learning and volunteering can help. They can counter the increased loneliness and isolation that is often associated with retirement and help maintain a sense of purpose. Volunteering in particular has been consistently shown to have a variety of benefits for people in retirement.
- Foster meaningful relationships: Connection is key to mental health and well-being. While retirement can put us out of touch with the people we might see regularly at work, it’s important to continue to foster relationships with friends and family.
- Seek help if needed: If you find that you are struggling with substance use, it is important to seek help. This may involve talking to a doctor or mental health professional, joining a peer support group, or seeking treatment.
While retirement can present some challenges, there are many ways to mitigate against substance use and addiction in later life so that you can live your retirement in a way that is healthy, fulfilling, and intentional.
Sunshine Coast Health Centre and Georgia Strait Women’s Clinic are world-class centers for addiction treatment and mental health. Our approach recognizes the importance of the physical, psychological, social and spiritual aspects of individuals in treatment and recovery. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use or addiction in retirement, give us a call. Our team of professionals can answer any questions you may have and steer you in the right direction.