Addiction in the Older Adult and Elderly Population

Addiction in the Older Adult and Elderly Population

Addiction in elderly populations is one of the fastest growing health problems in the United States. While most people assume that it’s teens and young adults who develop addictions to drugs or alcohol, older adults are not exempt. According to 2018 data, nearly 1 million adults 65 and older live with a substance use disorder (SUD). 

If you or someone you love is dependent on drugs or alcohol, it’s important to be aware that help is available at any age. Even older adults respond well to holistic addiction treatment and are able to improve their quality of life with the right services. 

The Hardy Survivor vs The Late Onset Group 

When discussing addiction in the elderly population, there are two types: 

  • Hardy survivor. The ‘hardy survivor’ is someone who has been abusing substances for many years and has reached age 65. 
  • Late onset. Those in the ‘late onset group’ have developed an addiction in later life. 

In terms of treatment, it doesn’t matter whether a person has an early or late onset of addiction. Drug treatment in Phoenix AZ is available for people in all stages of life. However, it does make a difference in terms of complications. Those who have been using drugs or alcohol for many years run a greater risk for health problems than those just starting. 

What Causes Addiction in Elderly People? 

You might be wondering how and why a person would develop an addiction in later life. By this point, they know the dangers of drug or alcohol abuse and the peer pressures of high school are long over. Why would someone turn to substances at this point in their lives? 

Believe it or not, there are many reasons why older adults turn to drugs or alcohol. 

  • Retirement. Some people lose their sense of identity when they retire. This can put them into a depression that causes them to abuse substances. Plus, they have more time on their hands to drink or use drugs, further escalating the problem. 
  • Death of loved ones. As people grow older, they lose more people – parents, friends, siblings, extended family, etc. This can lead to depression – a hard cycle to break when multiple people pass away.
  • Loss of income. Whether it’s retirement, a job loss or something else, older adults often experience a decrease in income. Again, this can be depressing and cause a person to cope with drugs or alcohol. 
  • Physical ailments. As the body slows down and people aren’t able to do as much, they can become depressed. Also, some of the medications prescribed to treat pain can be habit forming. 

Dangers of Substance Abuse in the Elderly 

Generally speaking, older adults misuse alcohol, OTC meds and prescription meds the most. Although with more states legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana, we’re also seeing higher rates of marijuana use and vaping in the elderly population. 

Abusing drugs or alcohol has damaging effects on the body at any age, but there are special considerations for the elderly population. Senior citizens are more susceptible to the effects of drugs and alcohol because the body can’t break down and absorb substances as it once did. 

Additionally, people older than 65 are often taking multiple medications that may not mix well with other substances. Here are some of the biggest concerns regarding substance abuse in the elderly: 

  • Worsens symptoms of underlying health conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease or liver disease  
  • Causes confusion which can make it difficult to distinguish between normal age-related memory loss and dementia 
  • Increases symptoms of anxiety or depression 
  • Greater risk for accidents, falls and injuries (even many hours after drinking or using drugs) 
  • Higher risk for dangerous drug interactions and uncomfortable side effects 

How to Tell if a Senior is Abusing Drugs or Alcohol 

If you thought identifying a substance abuse problem in teens was hard, recognizing addiction in elderly people is an even bigger challenge. While they’re usually not as emotional as teenagers, they’re physical health, mental health and relationships begin to deteriorate. It’s also not uncommon for them to experience cognitive changes.

That said, there are still some ways you can identify a potential problem. Even if you feel like you’re overreacting, it could be another problem that you’re catching. If something doesn’t feel right, act on it and talk to your loved one’s doctor.

Here are some signs of substance abuse in an older adult: 

  • Changes in sleeping or eating habits
  • Irritability, sadness or depression
  • Unexplained chronic pain 
  • Lack of interest in activities 
  • Social withdrawal and isolation 
  • Wanting to be alone more often 
  • Requesting refills more often 
  • Going through medication too quickly 

Addiction Treatment in Phoenix for Older Adults 

If the doctor suspects an addiction, or you are confident that your loved one has a problem, the next step is to start outpatient rehab in Phoenix. Adults 65 and over respond well to treatment, though we do recommend choosing a program that has experience with this population. This way, they can address age-related problems as they come up.

Here are some of the treatment options that work well for senior citizens: 

  • Cognitive behavioral approaches 
  • Group-based therapies 
  • Individual counseling
  • Marital or family therapy 
  • Medical approaches 
  • Community-linked services  

Another aspect to consider is how the treatment is delivered. Older adults tend to be embarrassed of their problem so they prefer privacy and confidentiality. At the same time, many seniors do not want to live in an inpatient facility with people a quarter of their age. This is why outpatient rehab in Phoenix AZ is typically best, as seniors can maintain their privacy while receiving one-on-one support. 

Start Recovery Today No Matter Your Age! 

Addiction does not discriminate against anyone. Even older adults can develop an addiction in later life. Continuum Recovery Center is comfortable treating older adults and we utilize a number of therapies to help our clients kick their habit while strengthening their physical, mental and spiritual health. 

To learn more about Continuum Recovery Center and how we can support an older adult’s path to sobriety, contact us today.