When you picture a person struggling with addiction, what do you see? Many see young adults, or struggling middle-aged men and women – but the elderly are not immune. According to the Hazeldon Betty Ford Foundation, substance abuse among those 60 years and older currently affects about 17 percent of this population.
And while addiction is always dangerous, the health implications for our senior citizens can be especially devastating. People over 65 years old have a lessened ability to metabolize drugs or alcohol along and an increased brain sensitivity to them.
There are several reasons the elderly are at risk for substance abuse. One of the leading causes is prescription medicine. Typically, our older population is given more medications than any other age group. While their medical issues may be painful, in today’s opiate epidemic, these medicines cannot be given or taken lightly. There is also the tendency for older people to develop unhealthy relationships with alcohol to cope with loneliness as they begin to lose more and more friends and loved ones. Today’s older generation – the Baby Boomers – were among the first wave of Americans trying illicit drugs in the 1960s. With new stressors, they may find it tempting to return to these practices.
Identifying a substance abuse disorder in your elderly family and friends can be tricky. It is commonly misdiagnosed and overlooked as it can be hard to differentiate addiction symptoms with those of simply growing older.
The bright side is that the older generation is generally open to treatment, as they will more acutely feel the physical improvements of sobriety such as improved cognition and more independent living.
If you or someone you love needs help and support for an addiction, Spectrum Health Systems and the New England Recovery Center are here 24/7. We meet you where you’re at. Learn more on our website or call us at (844) 233-6372.