Old Age Substance Abuse

Old Age Substance Abuse

Old Age Substance Abuse

Substance abuse among the elderly (adults over the age of 60), particularly of alcohol and prescription drugs, is one of the fastest growing health problems in the United States.

Addiction among people 65 and up is often underestimated and under-diagnosed, which can prevent them from getting the help they need.

For instance, the death of a loved one, moving from work into retirement, or dealing with a serious illness can leave people feeling sad or anxious. After a period of adjustment, many older adults can regain their emotional balance, but others do not and may develop depression.

Alcohol and prescription drug abuse affects up to 17% of adults over the age of 60 as per the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Due to insufficient knowledge, limited research data, and hurried office visits, health care providers often overlook substance abuse among the elderly. This is made worse by the fact taht the elderly often have medical or behavioral disorders that mimic symptoms of substance abuse, such as depression, diabetes, or dementia.

According to the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, substance abuse among senior citizens can be classified into two general forms: the “hardy survivor,” or those who have been abusing substances for many years and have reached 65, and the “late onset” group, which is those who form addictions later in life. Regardless of how old you are or when your addiction started, there are treatment options available to help you get back on a healthy path.

Causes of Addiction in the Elderly

There are several things that could contribute to someone turning to substance abuse later in life. These could be health-related issues or life-changing events that take an emotional toll. These events may provoke substance-abusing behavior that can result in a full-scale addiction.

Potential triggers or causes for drug or alcohol addiction in the elderly include:
  • Retirement
  • Death of a family member, spouse, pet or close friend
  • Loss of income or financial strains
  • Relocation or placement in a nursing home
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Family conflict
  • Mental or physical health decline (depression, memory loss, major surgeries, etc.)
  • The Dangers of Elderly Substance Abuse

    Drug or alcohol abuse among the elderly is particularly dangerous because senior citizens are more susceptible to the deteriorating effects of these substances. Individuals over 65 have a decreased ability to metabolize drugs or alcohol along with an increased brain sensitivity to them. This makes it dangerous for seniors to use drugs or alcohol at all, even if the person isn’t addicted.

    Benzodiazepines, which are used to treat anxiety, pain or insomnia, are some of the most dangerous prescription drugs for seniors. These are generously prescribed and highly addictive. The rate of senior citizens addicted to benzos has increased every year

    Symptoms of Addiction in Senior Citizens

    As people get older, their mental health, physical health and personal relationships may start to deteriorate. Although addiction may be more difficult to recognize in this demographic, it’s important to pay attention to any unusual signs your elderly loved one displays.

    Some signs of elderly drug abuse to look for include:
  • Memory problems
  • Changes in sleeping habits
  • Unexplained bruises
  • Irritability, sadness, depression
  • Unexplained chronic pain
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Wanting to be alone often
  • Failing to bathe or keep clean
  • Losing touch with loved ones
  • Lack of interest ual activities
  • Once an addiction is identified, it is critical to seek out a treatment center that has specific experience working with seniors facing addiction.

    You should look for programs that specialize in this type of addiction and also offer case management services, as individuals over 65 typically lack the social support required throughout recovery. These case management services will provide the elderly with access to medical, psychiatric and social resources to allow for a healthy lifestyle to continue after treatment.

    As per The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) consensus panel, the following are recommended as effective treatment approaches for older adults in substance abuse treatment:

  • Cognitive behavioral approaches
  • Group-based approaches
  • Individual counseling
  • Medical/psychiatric approaches
  • Marital and family involvement / family therapy
  • Case Management/Community-linked services and outreach
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