Some older adults may turn to alcohol or cigarettes as a way to cope with financial stress, particularly men and people with less education, a new study suggests.
In the study, researchers surveyed 2,300 older Americans periodically between 1992 and 2006, and found that 16% reported growing financial strain over that time, 3% reported increases in heavy drinking (more than 30 drinks a month), and 1% said they'd started smoking more.
The youngest of the study participants were age 65 when the study began.
Older men who faced increasing financial stress were 30% more likely to become heavy drinkers than those who remained financially stable. This increased risk was similar for older adults with lower levels of education compared to those with more education.
Older women and seniors with higher levels of education tended to reduce their drinking when they encountered financial struggles, according to the study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.
The findings don't actually show that financial problems were the reason for changes in smoking and drinking habits, but it is known that some people use alcohol and tobacco as a way of coping with stress, noted lead researcher Benjamin A. Shaw of the State University of New York at Albany.
"When you have a stressor that's not very controllable, people may focus on something to help control their emotional response to the stressor," he said in a journal news release.
Financial woes may be particularly stressful for older adults, Shaw added.
"They are out of the workforce, and they might feel like they have less time to recover or generally have less control over their financial situation," he explained.
The American Psychological Association outlines ways to manage your stress in tough economic times.
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