There is a rising concern over the prevalence of substance abuse among people over age 60 as research begins to shed light on a very real problem – older adults are a significant at-risk population we tend to overlook when detecting and treating addiction.
Whether an older person has successfully hidden a drinking or drug problem for decades or recently become addicted to prescription medications like opioids or benzodiazepines, we can’t ignore this issue any longer.
Why Older Adults Turn to Substances
It’s easy to assume older adults are at low risk for addiction because they don’t fit the stereotype of a typical drug user. However, addiction does not discriminate – it can happen to anyone, at any age.
Several factors play pivotal roles in this.
- Life transitions: Major life shifts, like retirement or the loss of a spouse, can cause emotional turmoil that many people struggle to manage.
- Physical and emotional challenges: Aging invariably brings physical frailty and emotional upheaval. Increased isolation can further exacerbate these feelings, nudging some to use alcohol or drugs as coping mechanisms.
The Amplified Impact of Addiction on Seniors
Contrary to some beliefs, addiction in the elderly is not a benign issue. Substance dependency can have more dire consequences for older adults than for any other age group. Why is this so?
- Altered metabolism: With age, the body’s capability to process substances like alcohol or drugs diminishes, amplifying their effects.
- Polysubstance use: Thirty-six percent of older adults take five or more prescription medications. Mixing these substances, even in moderate amounts, can create hazardous drug interactions.
Recognizing and Addressing a Hidden Epidemic
Dismissing or trivializing substance abuse in the elderly is not only detrimental; it’s unjust. Everyone deserves the opportunity for healing, recovery and a life free from addiction’s shackles.
Having lived a long, independent life, an older adult may feel acutely ashamed to admit they need addiction treatment. However, it’s never too late to seek help. Older adult addiction treatment programs like HVRC’s provide tailored, compassionate care for seniors, addressing their unique needs and challenges.
The disease of addiction is insidious, affecting people from all walks of life, including our seniors. As awareness spreads, it’s imperative for society, families and medical communities to rally together, ensuring our older adults receive the care, compassion and respect they deserve. At HVRC, we stand committed to this mission, ready to assist and support at every step. Contact us to request help for yourself or someone you care about.