Older Former Prisoners’ Pathways to Sobriety – 2017-08-17

This study explores how older age shapes processes of substance abuse cessation among male substance users recently released from prison. Semistructured in-depth interviews and brief surveys were conducted with 15 men age 49+, released from prison in a large, eastern U.S. city. A follow-up interview was conducted with each participant (n = 15). Conventional content analysis was used to analyze these data. Aging was central to the stories men told about attaining and maintaining sobriety. Men gained clarity after forced detoxification in prison, which was often followed by a period of reflection and evaluation of their lives. Older age seemed integral for this period of sobriety and reflection to catalyze cognitive change, a phenomenon the author terms “sober aged reflection.” Further, men described a heightened awareness of mortality that had come with older age and were deeply afraid of dying in prison. This fear helped inspire a new commitment to sobriety and concordant rejection of the crime that had been linked with their drug use in the past. Finally, men revealed identities and goals that had changed with time, changes incompatible with ongoing drug use. Policy implications are discussed.

Jessica J. Wyse , PhD
Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, Volume 36, 2018 – Issue 1