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Scand J Caring Sci. 2017 Dec;31(4):974-983. doi: 10.1111/scs.12421. Epub 2017 Apr 5.

Why do some older adults start drinking excessively late in life? Results from an Interpretative Phenomenological Study.

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Unit for Clinical Alcohol Research, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark.
Department of Psychiatry, Region of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark.



This is a pioneering qualitative phenomenological hermeneutical study investigating a so far under-investigated group of older adults with very late-onset alcohol use disorder. The number of older adults is increasing, and the number of older adults with alcohol problems is increasing accordingly. We investigated older adults with very late-onset alcohol use disorder to identify what causes some people to develop problems with alcohol after the age of 60.


We interviewed 12 Danish individuals (seven men) whose alcohol use disorder started after the age of 60. For our analysis, we used the Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis framework, rigorously following the six steps it prescribes. Participants were included until data saturation was achieved.


After a lifelong unproblematic (at times heavy) use of alcohol, it seemed that using alcohol as a coping strategy was one of the main factors in very late-onset alcohol use disorder among our participants. We found that the participants experienced a marked loss of identity when they had no activities to fill up their time after retirement. Social activities involving alcohol were also closely related to very late-onset alcohol use disorder.


Loss of identity, coping with physical and psychological problems, an overarching societal and social culture surrounding alcohol and the interrelationship between social life, alcohol use and heavy drinking are important factors that need be addressed clinically and preventively, and specifically for individuals experiencing very late-onset alcohol use disorder.


area of expertise: alcohol abuse; eldercare; hermeneutics; mental health; phenomenology; research expertise: qualitative approaches

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