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Seniors and Addiction

September 5, 2018

Baby boomers are growing older. They are now entering the aging population and for the first time, a population associated with high rates of drug and alcohol use during the 1960s and ’70s is entering the Medicare rolls, bringing high rates of drug and alcohol use along with them. The need for addiction treatment in older adults has never been more present.

It is thought that the rate of drug and alcohol addiction in maturing adults has gone underreported for years. This is true for a number of reasons; denial, social isolation, fear of stigmatization, lack of other coping mechanisms, all play a part. But as we age, the risks associated with substance use and addiction increase. Our bodies become less able to deal with the adverse consequences of substance use as we age. Those over the age of 65 have a decreased ability to metabolize substances coupled with an increased brain sensitivity to them. This makes addiction dangerous in seniors.

Triggers For Increased Use In Seniors

There are a number of life events that can cause an older adult to move from moderate to heavy substance use. The process of growing older can lead to more social isolation and the use of substances often starts out as a coping tool among seniors. Seniors deal with loss. Loss of a spouse or close friend can prompt heavy substance use in the surviving spouse or friend. Financial strains are another large trigger for the elderly. Living on a fixed income can be difficult. Juggling expenses on a limited income can be stressful. Losing income or making the transition to retirement can precipitate heavy substance use. Finally, chronic pain can cause an elder to seek relief from pain medications, some of which are addictive. Seniors become used to taking medications as they age. Adding pain pills to the mix can seem like a natural extension of a medication regimen.

What Abuse May Look Like In an Older Population

It can be difficult to properly diagnose addiction in a senior adult. Signs of alcohol or drug use are often mistaken for normal aging. An older person may complain about depression or lethargy during a regular doctor visit. Both of these may also be signs of substance abuse. An older individual may complain of insomnia or memory problems or may have a serious fall. These too can be signs of substance abuse. It can be difficult for a healthcare provider to ascertain the presence of an underlying substance issue, and yet, for the senior, a caring healthcare provider may provide the entry to needed addiction treatment.

Social isolation is a reality for many seniors. Increased social isolation is not only a trigger for increased substance use as a coping tool, but it makes it difficult to diagnose substance abuse in seniors. Older adults often drink alone and may try to hide their use due to feelings of shame or fear of stigmatization. Often a doctor’s visit or emergency room visit may be the first opportunity for an older adult to talk with a supportive and caring individual about their substance use. An older person is more likely to speak openly about their use if they sense that the healthcare practitioner truly cares about their overall health and well-being.

Treatment Options For Adults

There are now wonderful treatment options for seniors. It is important that older adults find treatment options specializing in substance abuse with regards to this population. Seniors use substances for different reasons than do younger adults. Older adults have different physical needs and concerns and may have trouble with traditional addiction treatment in a mixed generational setting.

In addition, an older adult often lacks sufficient support and may need case management services or other supportive services in addition to medical treatment to overcome an addiction. Seniors may need help getting to treatment. Transportation may be an issue, especially wheelchair-accessible transportation.

Finding treatment options that are tailored for the adult can often make the difference between success and failure. Treatment modalities can be diverse, encompassing the traditional 12-step model as well as non-traditional modalities such as Emotional Freedom Technique, art therapy, and meditation among others.

At The Meadows, we work together with you to fashion a treatment plan tailored to your needs to bring you back to health and vibrancy. Our treatment facilities specialize in the care of older adults. We strive to help each person find the tools they need to change old behavior patterns and reweave a life that focuses on new patterns of health and well-being.