Addiction among the elderly is something that doesn’t get that much attention in the United States today. It is either not considered when the topic of substance abuse is discussed or individuals just don’t think of an elderly person abusing any substance. If these are your thoughts on the subject, you are wrong. Addiction can happen to anyone at any age, and it does!
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA:
“Over 1 million adults 65 and older struggled with a substance abuse disorder in 2014.”
As the elderly population continues to increase in the years to come, the problem will only increase as well.
Symptoms of Addiction Among the Elderly
As people age and become the elderly generation, it seems everything deteriorates. Their mental health, physical health, and relationships all seem to go downhill. Other than physical impairments, they lose beloved family members and friends. They can start to feel very isolated and alone. These feelings can be the cause of some of the abuse of drugs or alcohol.
Some symptoms you may want to look for in your elderly loved one might be:
- Changes in sleeping habits
- Irritability and depression
- Changes in eating habits
- Wanting to be alone often
- Memory problems
- Failing to bathe or clean house
- Lack of interest in usual activities
- Unexplained bruises
- Complaints of chronic pain
Some of these symptoms may seem like signs of the normal aging process, but you may need to take a closer look into the issues. They could be signs that your loved one is abusing drugs or alcohol.
Why the Elderly Become Addicts
The majority of elderly individuals do not use drugs or alcohol for the euphoric effects or to get high. Rather, they use substances to self-medicate either physical pain or emotional pain. They think that if they drink alcohol or take some type of opioid or benzodiazepine, it will help the emotional feelings that come along with aging – Feelings such as loss of youth, not being able to physically do the things they could when they were younger. No person wants to feel as if they are losing their independence and will have to rely on someone else for their needs.
Elderly addicts fall into two categories. One group has abused a substance or substances their entire adult lives and carried that abuse or addiction forward into their elderly years. The second group includes individuals who become addicted to a substance after the age of 65. The first group is thought to include about two-thirds of the older population who are alcoholics. The second group usually is made up of people who are struggling with the emotional effects of aging such as losing a partner or other loved one, changes in living situations, or financial problems. They may have had to relocate because of health reasons and feel isolated from friends and family.
Addiction Among the Elderly to Benzodiazepines
Benzodiazepines are drugs that are prescribed for insomnia, anxiety, and dementia symptoms in the elderly. Prescribing benzodiazepines to the elderly can be very dangerous and they seem to be prescribed to this generation regularly today. While they should only be prescribed for short-term use, reports show that they a prescribed to seniors for long periods regularly.
Some of the effects of these drugs include:
- Memory problems
- Balance problems
- Daytime sleepiness
- Depressed mood
One of the major concerns of older individuals is fearing a fall which could result in a broken hip or any other bone. Elderly patients have weaker and more brittle bones which can easily be broken with even the slightest mishap. Mental confusion is another concern of older adults. Benzodiazepines contribute to both of these risks, especially when taken long-term. However, physicians keep prescribing them without considering the risks for their elderly patients.
Treatment for Addiction Among the Elderly
There is hope for addiction among the elderly. Many addiction treatment centers today offer programs tailored to the needs of older patients. Just as teenagers have different reasons for abusing substances, so do the elderly. Our individual programs cater to their needs and preferences.
We take the individual’s age and physical condition into consideration when the detoxification process is taking place. Our staff supervises the patient 24/7 so if any medical issues arise, we can take care of them immediately. After detox is complete, they will receive excellent care as they go through their treatment program and prepare to live their life of sobriety upon returning home.
If you have an elderly loved one who needs treatment for addiction, contact us to learn more about the individualized treatment programs that we offer for treating addiction among the elderly. One of our representatives can answer any questions you may have.
samhsa.gov – A Day in the Life of Older Adults: Substance Use Facts
usnews.com – Are Older Adults Taking Benzodiazepines Safely?