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  • John Hagerman

Substance Abuse in Seniors: The Reasons and How to Prevent it*

Part of my job as a professional retirement coach, is to keep an eye on anything that affects current and future retirees, especially in areas that impact client’s happiness after they retire. One of the biggest bumps for seniors is substance abuse. There are many stresses that can lead to the problem, but recognizing it as a problem is the first step in addressing it.

Substance abuse is a serious problem that can affect people of all ages, including seniors. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about 1 in 10 adults over the age of 65 misuse alcohol, and about 1 in 20 misuse prescription drugs.

There are many reasons why seniors may abuse substances. Some of the most common reasons include:

  • Loss of purpose. Walking away from a career of 20, 30 or even 40 years, can create a big hole in how people view themselves and their purpose in life. Losing that sense of purpose can leave seniors feeling lost. Substance abuse can be a way of numbing the pain of losing a sense of purpose.

  • Coping with health problems. Many seniors experience chronic health problems, such as pain, depression, and anxiety. Substance abuse can be a way to cope with these problems.

  • Loneliness and isolation. Many seniors live alone or are widowed. This can lead to loneliness and isolation, which can increase the risk of substance abuse.

  • Loss of independence. As people age, they may experience a loss of independence. This can be due to physical health problems, financial problems, or the death of a spouse or loved one. Substance abuse can be a way to cope with this loss of independence.

  • Prescription drug abuse. Many seniors take prescription medications for chronic health problems. However, prescription drugs can be addictive, and some seniors may misuse them.

The effects of substance abuse can be serious for seniors. In addition to the health risks associated with substance abuse, seniors who abuse substances may also experience problems with their relationships, finances, and overall quality of life.

There are a number of things that can be done to help prevent substance abuse in seniors. One important step is to plan for retirement. This includes making sure that seniors have a financial plan in place, as well as a plan for how they will spend their time in retirement.

Many seniors work with a financial professional when planning retirement. Unfortunately, few put much effort into planning the non-financial aspects of retirement. Working with a coach to plan the non-financial side of retirement can help seniors to identify their goals and develop a plan to achieve them. A coach can also help seniors to develop coping skills for dealing with the challenges of retirement, such as loneliness and isolation.

In addition to planning for retirement, there are a number of other things that can be done to help prevent substance abuse in seniors. These include:

  • Staying connected with friends and family. Having a strong social network can help seniors to stay connected and engaged, which can reduce the risk of substance abuse.

  • Engaging in meaningful activities. Having something to do can help seniors to stay active and productive, which can also reduce the risk of substance abuse.

  • Getting regular medical checkups. This can help to identify and treat any health problems that may be contributing to substance abuse.

  • Seeking help if needed. If a senior is struggling with substance abuse, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. There are many treatment options available, and with the right support, seniors can overcome their addiction and live healthy and fulfilling lives.


Substance abuse is a serious problem that can have a significant impact on the lives of seniors. However, there are many things that can be done to help prevent it. By planning for retirement, staying connected with friends and family, engaging in meaningful activities, getting regular medical checkups, and seeking help if needed, seniors can reduce their risk of substance abuse and live healthy and fulfilling lives.

If you would like to talk to a non-financial retirement coach to see how they can help, you’re invited to contact John Hagerman via his website at, or via email at

Here are some additional tips for preventing substance abuse in seniors:

  • Be aware of the signs and symptoms of substance abuse. These can include changes in behavior, mood, and physical appearance.

  • Talk to your doctor about your concerns. They can help you assess your risk for substance abuse and provide you with resources for prevention.

  • Set limits on your alcohol and medication use. It is important to drink alcohol in moderation and only take prescription medications as directed by your doctor.

  • Find healthy ways to cope with stress and difficult emotions. This could include exercise, relaxation techniques, or spending time with loved ones.

  • If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, don't hesitate to get help. There are many resources available, including treatment centers, support groups, and online resources.

*Google Bard was used to help research and create this blog post.

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