Older Adults May Drink, Smoke More When Financially Stressed

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But, of course, "heavy alcohol use and smoking do little to solve the real root causes of distress in situations of financial difficulty," said Shaw. "These behaviors can also lead to serious health problems. So, on balance, the use of alcohol and smoking to cope with financial strain is problematic."

Jernigan agreed.

"People always think that it's just alcohol and they're self-medicating, but the fact of the matter is that heavy alcohol use at any age will shorten life span and has a variety of negative outcomes," said Jernigan.

To avoid turning to the bottle during times of stress, it's important to have access to a social support group.

"The most stressful situations are often those over which we feel the least control," said Shaw. "If we can gain some semblance of control, for instance, through financial planning or revising the household budget to meet new realities, the sense of distress is likely to ebb at least a little bit, but maybe enough to prevent the need for turning to alcohol or smoking as coping devices."

If you are concerned about your own drinking habits, Levounis suggested the "oldest standby"—give yourself a test.

"See if you can go a month without drinking or a week without smoking," he said. "If you cannot meet your own limitations, you might have a problem and might want to consider seeking help."

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