Originally Published on Hanley Center at Origins

The appeal of a change in lifestyle during retirement rarely includes a clear view of what pitfalls can emerge in the “golden years.”  Whether you retire early or work into your late 60s or 70s, your transition in work status may precede many other changes, some unexpected, as you navigate the life you want to create next. As you approach or begin your retirement, with or without a history of drug or alcohol abuse, let’s look at five hidden difficulties you might encounter.

The emergence of a late-onset substance use disorders, during retirement for example, can be a response to significant life changes in the golden years. A decrease in structured time accompanied by a loss of purpose and peer support, development of chronic conditions, and unexpected financial instability can contribute to a retiree’s misuse of drugs or alcohol. Age-specific treatment is available for the retiree who has developed an addiction to alcohol, illicit drugs, or prescription medication.  

Pitfall: Decrease in Structured Time

For many people, retirement is basically unstructured time to fill. If you were someone who kept your life highly structured during your working years, you may ease up a bit and enjoy more freedom. If you were someone whose life outside of work was very unstructured, retirement is likely going to resemble that version of your earlier life.

While this kind of freedom every day can seem welcoming, it’s also a risk. Endless unstructured time can lead to new behaviors, such as drinking daily or drinking in excess more often. Some people may begin consuming alcoholic beverages earlier in the day or drinking recreationally rather than socially.

Scheduling some regular activities of interest, even in short blocks of time, can allow you to add some helpful structure to your week.

Pitfall: Loss of Purpose

During your career, you may have defined yourself by your job title or your work duties, but retirement has changed how you see yourself. A loss of purpose can have an impact on one’s self-esteem and even one’s sense of identity. Without preparing for the transition, you may begin to feel an unexpected emotional response to not working.

Drinking excessively or using drugs might develop as a behavior used to cope with a loss of purpose. Connecting with others who misuse alcohol or drugs might seem inviting as you recognize your shared interests. The repeated behavior of spending time with people who also abuse alcohol or drugs may feel like it’s restored purpose to your life while it’s actually creating a sense of dependence on the substance you’re using.

Finding purposeful ways to contribute to the community around you or devoting time to an interest that remained dormant during your working years is a strategy to build a new purpose in your retirement years. 

Pitfall: Loss of Peer Support

Disconnection from the people you saw every day at work can be a major loss of peer support you had in place for years. It’s likely you spent more time with them during your career than anyone else, including your own family. Their absence from your life can leave you feeling isolated and unsure about how to create a new social group.

Similar to one outcome of unstructured time, a loss of peer support can lead a retiree to turn to more frequent drinking or misuse of drugs as a response. Self-medicating could come in the form of abusing prescription drugs or mixing meds with alcohol consumption. Being aware of why your behaviors related to alcohol or drug use are changing is helpful before a misuse grows into an addiction.

Reconnecting with former coworkers and old friends once a month can be one way to actively stay in touch and continue to maintain your social circle during retirement. 

Pitfall: Emerging Chronic Conditions

When your physical condition and well-being of yesteryear is gone and chronic conditions begin to emerge, such as back pain or heart trouble, concern over health and mortality can become a distressing daily experience. Responding to physical issues with unauthorized extra doses of prescription meds or misuse of alcohol can create a dependence on these substances and a need for treatment.

Discussing the impact of both chronic conditions and mental health concerns with your doctor can help you find safe solutions that don’t further your dependence or become life-threatening.

Pitfall: Limited Financial Resources

Financial concerns can be a tremendous stressor for retirees, even if you have carefully planned for your retirement. Unexpected expenses can drastically reduce your resources and create conflict in the family. Money troubles can become one more pitfall increasing a retiree’s frequency of substance abuse.

Beginning addiction treatment as soon as you see the dependence on drugs or alcohol begin to emerge can be a way to protect both your health and your assets later in life.

Hanley Center – A Path to Recovery

Hanley Center is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance use, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renowned clinical care for addiction and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting sobriety. For information on our programs, call us today: 844-211-0263.