Sadly, substance abuse among older adults and the elderly (adults over the age of 60), mostly made up of alcohol and prescription drugs, is a rapidly growing health problem within the United States. And unfortunately, alcohol abuse in the lives of people aged 65 and up is often minimized and undiagnosed. This can keep them from getting the treatment they require.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), alcohol and prescription drug abuse affect up to 17% of adults over the age of 60. Largely due to lacking understanding, limited research data, and rushed medical visits, doctors and other health care providers often miss the diagnosis of alcohol and drug abuse among older adults and the elderly. Older adults and the elderly have medical or behavioral disorders that resemble symptoms of substance abuse, such as depression, diabetes, or dementia which only makes the problem ever more dire.
Substance abuse for older adults and/or the elderly are classified into two general forms: those who have been abusing drugs and/or alcohol for a long time and have reached the age of 65, and the group which is made up of those who have formed addictions late in life.
There are several reasons that would cause an older adult or the elderly to turn to substance abuse in their later years of life. Often, life-changing events can be contributing factors. Or even more commonly, health-related issues can cause addiction to develop.
This is because health problems often take an emotional toll on those who suffer from them. As a result, individuals may turn to substance abuse as a way to “cope” with the stressors of getting older or a decline of health. Unfortunately, these types of events can evoke substance misuse behaviors that often lead to an addiction, requiring detox or additional substance abuse treatment.
Drug and alcohol abuse among older adults and the elderly is specifically worrisome because this group of adults tends to be more susceptible to the deteriorating effects of substance abuse. People over the age of 65 have a lowered ability to metabolize substances like drugs and alcohol along with an amplified brain sensitivity to these potentially dangerous substances. This makes it very risky and dangerous for older adults to even use drugs or alcohol, let alone become addicted to these substances.
Benzodiazepines, also known as benzos, are commonly prescribed to treat pain, insomnia, or anxiety. These drugs are some of the most unsafe prescription medications prescribed to older adults and the elderly. This is mainly due to the fact that they are highly addictive. Unfortunately, the addiction to benzos rate among older adults and the elderly increases drastically each year.
As individuals get older, their physical health, mental health, and personal relationships may start to deteriorate. Substance abuse is increasingly more difficult to diagnose within this demographic, so it is extremely imperative to pay attention to any unusual behaviors or signs that an older adult or a loved one may display.
Once a substance abuse is determined, it becomes crucial to pursue treatment options that have specialized experience with working with older adults and the elderly facing a substance abuse problem. You should also investigate substance abuse programs that focus on this type of abuse or addiction and also offer case management services. After all, the unfortunate truth is that many people over 65 years old do not possess the support systems required to successfully reach sobriety.
Case management services will furnish an older adult with direct access to social, psychiatric, and medical resources. These can assist them in a healthier lifestyle to continue after completed substance abuse treatment.
With people who are over the age of 60 comes a much greater health risk to those that find themselves with an addiction and/or substance abuse. Due to various health and medical concerns, an older adult will more than likely require inpatient care.
The risks that come with a full-blown addiction to any type of substance increase greatly due to the advanced age. For this reason, it is important for senior adults who suffer from addiction to find help and treatment right away. It may very well prove to be essential for individuals in this age group to receive inpatient, residential care as they may need around-the-clock care.
Depending on the severity of the substance abuse and the length of time the older adult has been using drugs or alcohol will determine the kind of program and the length of said program. Essentially, the severity of the abuse or addiction or the amount of time a person has been using drugs or alcohol will determine if the older adult qualifies for an inpatient treatment program versus an outpatient treatment program. If the problem is not addressed professionally, the outcome can be harmful, even life-threatening.
Our medical professionals at Free by the Sea will work with you or your older loved one who is seeking treatment for substance misuse. We offer a free evaluation to best determine the right program for their individual needs.
The New York Times stated “that between 14 and 20 percent of the elderly population have suffered from either a mental health disorder, substance abuse disorder, or both” according to a national survey in 2010.
Mental illness commonly co-occurs (dual diagnosis) with substance abuse in older adults and the elderly. Older adults who are diagnosed with a mood disorder are twice as likely to also struggle with substance abuse, according to NIDA reports. As individuals get older, mental and physical abilities may decline. This can cause some confusion on whether it is substance abuse, mental illness, or both. So, it is important for those who suffer in these areas to seek a professional opinion.
Stressful changes in the daily life of an older adult or the elderly often occur as people age. This could increase the chances of substance abuse. If these issues are left untreated or undiagnosed, they can lead to a full-blown addiction.
As age progresses, significant others or loved ones may eventually pass away. Living situations may change, retirement begins, and/or physical struggles may increase. Substance abuse may begin as a coping mechanism during these difficult physical and psychological changes.
Senior and elderly adults are far less likely to abuse substances like drugs and/or alcohol as a way to “get high”. Rather, they are more likely to abuse these substances as some sort of form of “self-medication”, a way to numb the emotional and physical pain of getting older.
Almost one-third of older adults and the elderly between the ages of 57 and 85 commonly are prescribed 5 or more prescription medications. In addition, about 68% of United States citizens take over-the-counter medications as well as supplements in an attempt to better their health.
Commonly, antidepressants, tranquilizers, sedatives, pain and anti-anxiety medications are prescribed without the thought of a substance abuse problem. All these types of medications (especially when combined) commonly have psychoactive effects, and many are highly addictive.
Older adults will benefit greatly from detox, just as someone with a substance abuse problem who is young in age. Senior individuals who face substance abuse problems can get the help they need from a vast array of addiction treatment approaches, including detoxification (detox).
This includes but is not limited to residential addiction treatment, outpatient substance abuse treatment, and ongoing care. However, specialized detox and substance abuse treatment programs devised for older adults and the elderly can help confront some of the unique differences between older and younger substance abuse addicts.
For many older adults and the elderly battling with substance abuse, detox is the beginning phase in the treatment process. Depending on physical withdrawal side effects and other home life or financial circumstances, detox may take place in either an inpatient substance abuse program or through an outpatient substance abuse program.
The average duration of the detox process is also heavily determined by the types of substances abused and other varying factors. These include mental health quality, which will naturally differ from patient to patient.
Detoxification (detox) programs that are uniquely designed for older adults and the elderly are primarily based on the same conventions as for detoxification in other younger age groups. However, the medical professionals at Free by the Sea are always conscious of the individual needs of our older adults and elderly patients.
Our substance abuse programs consist of a positive, non-ageist ideology and implement services in a non-confrontational and supportive manner. Our treatment program for senior adults is cognizant of the varying number of considerations that are unique to older adults.
At Free by the Sea, our substance abuse programs for older adults will afford special attention to whether a patient is best helped via an inpatient or outpatient substance abuse detoxification setting, particularly if there are any psychiatric or medical issues that are demonstrated.
Since detox is the first step of a complete substance abuse treatment program for an older adult or an elderly person, the detoxification professionals will provide referrals to the appropriate substance abuse treatment programs required to help an older adult or an elderly person and assist them with staying sober once they have successfully completed detox.
At Free by the Sea, our team is ready to help anyone who has the courage to finally take back control of their life after struggling with a substance abuse disorder. The path to sobriety can be difficult. But those with an unparalleled support system will put themselves in the best position for living a substance-free life.
Older adults who suffer from addiction should have access to the substance abuse treatment resources and services they need. So, here at Free by the Sea, we work to make treatment both accessible and effective.
If you are ready to create a sober and healthy life, there’s no need to wait. Please simply reach out to us today. Our representatives are here to help!
Dr. Richard Crabbe joined our team in 2019 as our psychiatrist and medical director. He attended the University of Ghana Medical School where he became a Medical Doctor in 1977. From 1978 through 1984, he was a medical officer in the Ghana Navy and provided a variety of services from general medicine to surgeries. He received his Certificate in General Psychology from the American Board of Psychology and Neurology in 2002.