During the past two decades, the attention of public health professionals and other health care providers in America and abroad has been increasingly drawn to understanding how social conditions and the drivers of these conditions influence health and health-related behaviors (Braveman & Gottlieb, 2014).
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These social and economic conditions, which are often referred to as the social determinants of health (SDH), shape the health of populations in diverse and influential ways, hence their mounting interest as professionals try to provide solutions to a multiplicity of health issues affecting the society (Krumeich & Meershoek, 2014). In this light, the present paper illuminates selected social determinants of health and how they influence excessive alcohol consumption among elderly American adults.
Available literature demonstrates that, over the past two decades, alcohol and substance abuse among elderly American adults has been an important topic of discussion due to the debilitating health and socio-economic challenges associated with alcohol and substance abuse (Briggs et al., 2011; Sorocco & Ferrell, 2006).
In particular, the problem of excessive consumption of alcohol has been found to deprive “older adults of their health, their quality of life, and indeed their very lives” (Briggs et al., 2011, p. 113). Additionally, these authors acknowledge that the problem of excessive alcohol consumption among American adults 50 and older is likely to triple by 2020, hence the importance of the population and the health issue for the health profession.
The World Health Organization’s Commission on the Social Determinants of Health, comprehensively cited in Braveman and Gottlieb (2014), has described SDH as “the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age” and “the fundamental drivers of these conditions” (p. 19). Drawing from this description, it is safe to argue that the two foremost SDH impacting the health issue for this group of the population include lack of social support networks/social exclusion and stress.
In justifying the selected SDH, it is not unusual for people to lose social and emotional support systems as they advance in age, not mentioning that they are also exposed to social isolation due to the death of a spouse or close friends, retirement, altered activity levels, disability, relocation of family and friends, as well as family dissonance (Briggs et al., 2011).
In justifying stress, it has been reported that many elderly citizens gravitate toward excessive alcohol consumption due to their experiences with stressful life events, such as retirement, menopause, children leaving home, assuming a caregiving role for dependents, as well as the death of a spouse or partner (Sorocco & Ferrell, 2006). Overall, these determinants work individually or collaboratively to exacerbate the problem of excessive alcohol consumption among older adults.
Lastly, it can be argued that the SDH selected (lack of social support networks/social exclusion and stress) impact the health behavior of elderly American adults in terms of triggering depression and other risk behaviors. In particular, the determinants are likely to trigger
- withdrawn, isolated, impulsive, or hypersensitive behaviors among the elderly,
- sleep problems and malnutrition,
- suicidal ideation and increasing deaths arising from cardiovascular disease (Sorocco & Ferrell, 2006).
The two social determinants are fundamental drivers of these conditions among older adults engaged in excessive consumption of alcohol, hence the justification.
Overall, this paper has illuminated how lack of support networks/social isolation and stress influence excessive alcohol consumption among older adults in America, and how the determinants serve as the root cause of other behaviors related to the health issue. Consequently, it is of critical importance for health care professionals to address social determinants if they are to succeed in assisting older adults in changing their drinking habits.
Braveman, P., & Gottlieb, L. (2014). The social determinants of health: It’s time to consider the causes of the causes. Public Health Reports, 129(2), 19-31. Web.
Briggs, W.P., Magnus, V.A., Lassiter, P., Patterson, A., & Smith, L. (2011). Substance use, misuse, and abuse among older adults: Implications for clinical mental health counselors. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 33(2), 112-127. Web.
Krumeich, A., & Meershoek, A. (2014). Health in global context: Beyond the social determinants of health. Global Health Action, 7(1), 1-8. Web.
Sorocco, K.H., & Ferrell, S.W. (2006). Alcohol use among older adults. The Journal of General Psychology, 133(4), 453-467. Web.