Research Proposal: Substance Abuse

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[. . .] Significant differences between late onset and early onset alcoholics were found in several criteria, including preoccupation with drinking, inability to control drinking behavior, strong desire to consume alcohol, and lower rates of psychiatric comorbidity (Wetterling et al., 2003). Later onset alcoholics had significantly fewer detoxifications in the past, lower alcohol consumption, and demonstrated a higher rate of abstinence (Wetterling et al., 2003).

There may be significant differences between men and women in regards to elderly alcohol abuse. Among the elderly, there are fewer women than men that consume alcohol, and fewer women that exhibit problem drinking behavior (Gomberg, 1995). Some of the key differences between older men and women with alcohol abuse problems, it has been discovered that older women are significantly less likely to be married, divorced or separated, and demonstrate a higher likelihood of being widowed than older alcoholic men (Gomberg, 1995). Also, older alcoholic women have later onset of problem drinking than older men, and it is significantly more likely that older women alcoholics have problematic use of prescription psychoactive drugs (Gomberg, 1995). Another study conducted by Bobo et al. (2010) indicated that the majority of women do not demonstrated changed alcohol consumption after the age of 50. However, some women exhibit substantial increases in alcohol use and exceed recommended alcohol consumption levels (Bobo et al., 2010).

Since there is a projected dramatic increase in elderly individuals experiencing alcohol abuse problems, it is necessary that effective treatment interventions be determined and utilized (Gfroerer et al., 2003). Gfroerer et al. (2003) projected the need for alcoholism treatment interventions among the elderly in the year 2020 using regression models based on data from the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. Results of this study indicated that the number of elderly individuals that will be in need of treatment interventions for alcoholism will be approximately 4.4 million in the year 2020 (Gfroerer et al., 2003). This marks a projected 70% increase in the need for alcohol abuse treatment among the elderly population from 2001 to 2020 (Gfroerer et al., 2003). Therefore, there is a critical need for effective screening, diagnostic, and treatment tools for the elderly population.

Research questions

The present study will investigate two research questions. Based on the above discussed literature, two questions were formulated for investigation regarding alcohol abuse among the elderly. The first question is are older adults who abused alcohol previously in life at a younger age more or less likely to abuse alcohol than those who did not? The second research question posed for investigation in the present study is are older adults who have lost a spouse more or less likely to abuse alcohol than older adults who have a living partner or who have never been married? These two questions were created based on gaps in the available literature concerning alcoholism among the elderly.

The first research question examines the potential causative effect that early onset alcoholism has on the experience of alcoholism later in life. This is an important question to explore due to the potential for prevention strategies that could be implemented in order to prevent elderly alcohol abuse. There are several factors that contribute to alcohol abuse behaviors across the lifespan, and pinpointing these factors allows for the development of greater understanding of the process involved in the manifestation of alcoholic behavior in the elderly. This furthermore would lead to the development of effective interventions in both primary and secondary care. Effort toward the development of effective prevention initiatives is especially important given the dramatic increase in the elderly population in the United States over the next 20 years.

The second research question in the present study is to investigate whether older adults who have lost a spouse are more or less likely to abuse alcohol in comparison to older adults who have a living partner or are never married. Previous research has indicated that a greater proportion of alcoholic women compared to alcoholic men are widowed (Gomberg, 1995). However, this research did not expand to explore the association beyond widowhood and alcohol abuse any further. The present study will investigate the specific prevalence of alcohol abuse problems among elderly people as they specifically relate to whether or not the individuals have lost a spouse, are married, or never married. Answering this research question will allow for greater clarity regarding important factors that must be included as important components for screening interventions for older adults more at risk for developing late-onset alcoholism. This is important due to the upcoming increase in the elderly population and the resulting increase in need for prevention and treatment of alcoholism among the elderly.


The hypothesis for question one is that older adults who abused alcohol when they were younger are more likely to abuse alcohol after the age of 65 years. This hypothesis is formulated based in part on previous research indicating the association between age of onset regarding alcoholism and several factors, including marital status, education level, drink preference, forensic history, and increased alcohol consumption (Shahpesandy et al., 2006). This previous research looked at distinct differences between individuals with early onset vs. late onset alcoholism, but it did look at the prevalence of alcoholism later in life as a result of alcohol abuse earlier in life. This hypothesis that alcoholism early in life is likely to result in continued alcoholism in old age is based on assumptions that alcohol abuse often continues across the lifespan unless effective interventions are implemented that change or halt this behavior. The null hypothesis for this first research question is that older adults who abused alcohol as younger adults are neither more or less likely to abuse alcohol after the age of 65 years.

The hypothesis for the second research question is that adults over the age of 65 years who have lost a spouse or life partner are more likely to abuse alcohol than adults who have never lost a spouse or have never been married. This hypothesis is grounded in the presence of depression that often results from the loss of a spouse. Depression often leaves individuals with feelings of hopelessness and lacking, and alcohol is often used as a form of self-medication. The prevalence of widowhood among the elderly population is greater than that for younger adults, so it is predicted that the loss of a spouse is likely to significantly contribute to the development of alcohol abuse behaviors as a coping mechanism. Past research has related marital status to alcoholism, but it did not look at it specifically as an independent variable. The null hypothesis for this second research question is that adults who have lost a spouse or life partner are neither more or less likely to abuse alcohol than adults who never lost a spouse or never married.

Study variables

Regarding the first research question and investigation of the first hypothesis, the independent variable is a history of alcohol abuse earlier in life. The dependent variable for this hypothesis is the presence of alcoholism as defined according to diagnostic criteria outlined in the DSM-IV. It will be investigated whether the presence of alcohol abuse behavior earlier in life is significantly associated with the diagnosis of alcoholism later in life (after the age of 65 years). The operational definition for the level of measurement used for investigation of the first research question is nominal, and the operational definition for the dependent variable level of measurement is ordinal. Respondents will be asked through questionnaire regarding different behaviors involving alcohol consumption and abuse previously in life prior to the age of 65 years using guidelines for the diagnosis of alcoholism outlined in the DSM-IV through questions addressing self-report of alcohol abuse behavior. Through this questionnaire respondents will be asked questions regarding current behaviors as they relate to guidelines and diagnostic criteria for alcoholism.

The second research question and its resulting hypothesis will be investigated according to the independent variable of marital status, defined as widowed, widower, currently married, divorced, or never married. Similar to the first research question and hypothesis, the dependent variable for the investigation of the second hypothesis is the diagnosis of alcoholism according the diagnostic criteria outlined in the DSM-IV. The second hypothesis postulates that marital status will be significantly associated to the presence of diagnoses of alcoholism among elderly individuals. For the purposes of this investigation, single will be defined as individuals with no significant relationship, married will be defined as those who currently have a legally recognized union or are cohabiting with someone for more than five years and have significant emotional and economic ties to this other person.

Control variables for the present study are alcohol abuse experienced previously in life (nominal variable), the degree of alcohol used at a younger age (interval variable), treatment received for alcoholism (nominal variable), level of education (ordinal variable), past criminal behavior (ordinal variable), presence of a spouse or marriage (nominal variable), single… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Cite This Research Proposal:

APA Format

Substance Abuse.  (2011, April 25).  Retrieved June 15, 2019, from

MLA Format

"Substance Abuse."  25 April 2011.  Web.  15 June 2019. <>.

Chicago Format

"Substance Abuse."  April 25, 2011.  Accessed June 15, 2019.