An older man sits at a table by a window binge drinking beer

A Look at Substance Abuse in Older Adults

It’s common for people to think that substance abuse only impacts younger individuals and working professionals. However, the fact of the matter is older adults also struggle with addiction. From the pressures of getting older to the responsibilities typically associated with advanced age, seniors can easily find themselves self-medicating to manage stress in their lives.
It’s crucial to understand the way addiction impacts older adults and how you can provide support and encouragement toward their recovery. This is an essential first step to helping them overcome their addiction and avoid serious physical complications as they age.

Substance Abuse in Seniors

According to a recent survey published by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about 40 percent of the American population aged 65 and older drinks alcohol. Additionally, 17 percent of American adults over the age of 65 have a diagnosable alcohol use problem, but may never seek the help they need.

While alcohol is a widespread issue among seniors, prescription pills have become a significant danger among the populations, as well. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that 21-29 percent of people who were prescribed opioids for chronic pain misused them, and, on average, 130 Americans overdosed from these drugs each day.

While opioid addiction is an issue that crosses generations, older adults are considered to be at significantly higher risk for misuse. This is because the signs of opioid dependency can be incorrectly identified as signs of “old age”. This is why it is so vital for family members and friends to stay tuned into potential changes in behavior and mental activity when a senior is taking prescribed painkillers.

Why Seniors Struggle with Addiction

Studies have indicated that emergency departments within the United States saw a 78 percent increase in the number of visits among older adults misusing prescription or illicit substances between 2006 and 2012. Over 10 percent of that identified misuse included opioid drugs, which further indicates the extent to which seniors are using and abusing dangerous narcotics.

Additional studies used a nationally representative sample with data from more than 71,000 cases involving older adults, with 53 percent aged between 65 and 74. The results indicated that nearly half of the visits occurred among people ages 75 and older. Yet, for some unidentified reason, older adults and seniors are often ignored in the broader discussion about addiction.

According to the AARP, an increasing number of adults between the ages of 50 and 64 were shown to have abused painkillers, including opioids. The potential for prescription drug abuse remains high for seniors, since seniors use more prescription drugs than any other group. Also, the effects of painkillers grow more dangerous with the age of the user.

The use of opioids and other painkillers increases the risk of specific injuries, including:
• Delirium
• Falling
• Fractures
• Pneumonia

This scenario of increased risk among seniors is the same for stimulants and sedatives. Their collective access to these types of prescription medications increases the potential for abuse, even when that abuse begins innocently, but gradually progresses to a state of necessity.
Addiction in the senior community can be caused by health issues, life-changing events, or even traumatic experiences. Some examples include:

• Experiencing the death of a loved one
• Entering into retirement
• Significant loss of income
• Empty nest syndrome
• Being placed into a nursing home
• A decline in physical or mental health
• Physical pain causing the need for prescription medications

The reality of life is that seniors tend to suffer from more health concerns than younger individuals. It is not uncommon for elderly people to suffer from medical conditions that cause pain and require medicinal interventions.

Point being: Your aging loved one may be more likely to be prescribed addictive drugs, like prescription opioids.

Addiction in Older Adults: Your Loved One Can Get the Help They Need

Making the decision to address a substance use disorder is imperative to overcoming the disease and re-establishing a sense of health and happiness. For an aging loved one, it is even more important to seek appropriate clinical treatment for addictive behaviors due to the damage and devastation that a longstanding substance use disorder can have on both the physical health and mental wellbeing.

Finding a treatment facility that can help them address their addiction in a safe and secure setting is crucial to their recovery. This not only enhances the potential to repair the damage their addiction has inflicted on their personal health, but it also increases the likelihood that they will be able to enjoy every possible moment with their friends and loved ones again.

Life-Changing, Holistic Drug & Alcohol Addiction Treatment at Ranch Creek Recovery

As your loved one’s biggest advocate, we understand how vital it is for you to help your loved one get clean and stay sober. If they are ready to get help, or you are seeking insights from addiction recovery experts, Ranch Creek Recovery can help.

We go beyond the normal 12-step program and focus on tailor-fitting each treatment program to address each client’s unique needs. It’s about individualization and holistic treatment at Ranch Creek Recovery, and your loved one can discover a new beginning here.

Learn about our addiction treatment programs or contact us today. We’re here to help in any way we can.