Why Are Substance Abuse Issues So Prominent Among The Elderly?

Twenty years ago, the National Institutes of Health was among the first organizations to sound alarms about the “invisible epidemic” of substance abuse among folks over 60.

This issue is discussed only in hush tones. Well into the 1990s, even though more than 17 percent of people over 60 had issues with prescription drug or alcohol abuse, most medical literature largely ignored the problem, leaving families and victims with few options. Exacerbating the problem, many physicians misdiagnose addiction among the elderly, since the symptoms tend to mimic other common conditions among this age group. Moreover, since many new drug trials do not include older test subjects, the effects of powerful new painkillers on folks over 60 may be essentially unknown.

Children of addicts may play a role in the crisis as well, since they sometimes dismiss addiction among their elders, reasoning things like “he won’t be around much longer and his bourbon is the only thing that makes him happy.”

Scope of the Problem

Since this study was published in 1998, the elderly population has already increased substantially, and it will most likely double by 2050, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. A greater availability of stronger prescription drugs, along with the fact that many older Americans struggle with joint pain, arthritis, and other chronic forms of discomfort, may increase addiction exponentially.

As a general rule, older people have rather slow metabolisms, so they may not respond as well to some traditional addiction treatments. Furthermore, with fewer work or family commitments, many older people simply have more time on their hands than they had earlier. These things may create a reluctance to seek help, adding to the spiral of denial mentioned above.

Treatment Approaches

Perhaps even more so than younger people, many older addicts respond well to holistic treatment that includes:

  • Physical: Whereas younger addicts can sometimes endure withdrawal with little or no medical intervention, that’s not always possible with older addicts.
  • Emotional: A good counsellor does more than convey slogans. A good counsellor helps the individuals understand the nature of their addiction and gives them the tools they need to overcome it.
  • Distraction: Activities like yoga and water aerobics help ease the discomfort associated with many elder health conditions, and even mobility-impaired persons can do these things.
  • Filling the Void: Particularly if too much time was an issue, people who do not develop healthy and constructive habits will most likely end up back in addiction treatment centers.

Effective follow up may be one of the most crucial steps, as up to 60 percent of addicts will relapse at least once.

Contact us today to arrange a free and confidential assessment for yourself or a loved one.