Risky alcohol consumption linked to retirement transition

Senior adult male facing a kitchen table with alcoholic drink and looking very sad and depressed

Image: BackyardProductions/Bigstock.com

A Finnish study has found that 12% of people adopted ‘risky’ drinking patterns around the time of retirement. The researchers make the point in their report that retirement is a ‘significant life transition’, which brings substantial change. Some adopt this risky behaviour to help them cope.

The Finnish study

The study followed 5800 men and women in the Finnish Public Sector over a period of 11 years and surveyed (up to three times) their drinking habits before and after retirement. Risky drinking was defined as more than 288 grams of alcohol per week for men and more than 192 grams for women or an ‘extreme drinking occasion’ in the past 12 months—or both.

The researchers identified three groups of people: what they called the ‘sustained healthy drinking’ group (81% of participants); the ‘temporary increase in risky drinking around retirement’ (12%); and the ‘slowly declining risky drinking after retirement’ (7%).

Those most prone to risky drinking were smokers; males; those suffering from depression; and those living in a metropolitan area.

The point needs to be made that this risky drinking tends to be a temporary increase at or around retirement, but for 7% there’s a slow decline in the levels of drinking.

The pressure of transition

Obviously, risky drinking isn’t good at any time. This research illustrates the pressure that some, perhaps many, feel with the transition into retirement. The researchers point out that adverse life events such as divorce and job loss, which also bring a transition, can lead to increased alcohol consumption.

Retirement isn’t meant to be a negative time of life, but it does lead to questions and uncertainty about the future. And there’s also a realisation that you’re heading into the last stage of life, which can bring its own pressure to bear on the situation.

The report encourages employers to develop strategies to make the life transition for retiring employees smoother and healthier. That would be useful. However, there are some things you can do to help yourself through the process.

A five-point approach to preparing for retirement

This approach is adapted from a post by Betsy McCalla-Wriggins from Rowan University.

  • Create a plan: This means taking personal responsibility to manage this important transition. Dream and visualise what you want your new life to be like. Don’t be surprised if your plan changes and evolves over time.
  • Develop a timeline: Work out when you will retire and keep in mind what needs to happen before then. Set times to have them finished.
  • Research the transition options at your workplace: Discover what they are to work out what best fits you. Discuss them with your management or HR people. Do this early enough so you can plan ahead.
  • Try out your plan: Are there parts of your retirement plan that you can test drive? While nothing can be like the real thing, there may be activities you could try before retiring to see if you would like to continue with them. It could help you understand your future.
  • Acknowledge your feelings: Don’t be surprised if your feelings range from excitement to anxiety, anticipation to fear, and certainty to uncertainty. This is a time to identify the source of uncomfortable feelings and seek to address underlying issues.

Preparing well for retirement is likely to take away the need for a crutch like alcohol to cope. Psychologist Cy Wakeman puts it this way: ‘Preparing ourselves for what’s next is a much more productive use of energy that will actually help rather than hinder us in moments of uncertainty.’

Bruce Manners: the author of Retirement Ready?, Refusing to Retire, and founder of RetireNotes.com

Category: Physical Health

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