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Elderly Substance Abuse

A significant and alarming trend is emerging, and researchers are beginning to identify the contributing factors to a rise in elderly substance abuse. Treatment facilities recognize a rise in admissions for older adults and the senior population for treatment for elderly alcoholism and elderly drug abuse. A contributing factor to this trend is an alarming increase in stimulant prescriptions that healthcare providers issue to this population. This increase is due to a high number of diagnoses responding to the treatment of these medications. 

Stimulants for ADHD treatment are now on the rise for the senior population. With the advent of a new understanding and awareness of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, people over 65 are taking notice. Some have lived with life-long problems with focus and attention span and rejoice in this treatment option for relief. Unfortunately, because of the nature of stimulant prescriptions and unintentional misuse, elderly substance abuse is a result. 

Elderly Addiction Statistics

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), researching an escalation of elderly substance abuse, finds nearly 1,000,000 adults over 65 had a substance use disorder in 2018. Proportionately, the percentage doubled from 3.4% to 7% of treatment admissions between 2000 and 2012 for seniors. Drug-related deaths among the over-50 population are increasing 3% a year. Most frightening is that 75% of drug-related deaths of people over 50 are opioid-related. 

Elderly alcoholism rates continue to cause chronic medical conditions. The National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics reports that 85.9% of people over 65 who die from extreme alcohol use die from these chronic conditions. Another alarming statistic is that 11% of those over 65 binge drink every month. The senior metabolism changes and is less tolerant to elderly substance abuse and excessive alcohol use. 

Chronic Pain and Addiction in the Elderly Population

Persistent chronic pain within the senior population is complicated to treat because of the physical and psychological risk factors older people face. Biological risk factors include pain from physical disability, reduction in mobility, and chronic illnesses. Psychiatric risk factors include avoidance coping styles, previous substance abuse, mental illness, and social isolation. A study of adults ages 57-85 shows regular consumption of prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, and dietary supplements, which can contribute to unintentional elderly substance abuse

Other health conditions the senior population experience:

  • Up to 80% of patients have advanced cancer pain
  • 77% of heart disease patients experience pain
  • Adults over 65 report 4-9% use prescription opioids for pain relief

Grief and Self-Medication As an Addiction Risk Factor

Another challenging risk factor affecting seniors is the loss of a spouse, other friends, or family, which causes a high level of grief. Learning to live without a lifelong partner can lead to taking substances to cope with extreme change, loneliness, and despair. Elderly substance abuse can occur unintentionally during these periods when medications go beyond the original intentions. Prescription medications for anxiety, depression, and panic disorder, resulting from these lifestyle changes and grieving, can lead to elderly substance abuse quickly. 

Elderly Mental Health – Depression

Elderly substance abuse and elderly alcoholism are two of the fastest-growing health problems in the United States. While most seniors do not utilize illicit drugs, almost 20% misuse alcohol, over-the-counter medications, and prescription drugs, leading to elderly drug abuse. A dual diagnosis in the older population is more dangerous when a mental health condition is present with a substance use disorder. According to SAMHSA, 1 in 4 older adults have symptoms of a mental health condition in a given year. 

Healthcare providers who address the senior population may overlook the symptoms of a mental health condition, mistaking them for aging problems. Seniors still hold onto the stigma of mental health problems and use alcohol, which is acceptable to cope with mental health problems. This allows older adults to avoid shame and the prejudice they believe they could face if they reported a possible mental condition. Elderly alcoholism can be unintentional in these cases and lead to chronic physical illnesses. 

Signs of Elderly Addiction

In most situations, the older generation is good at hiding their problems, adverse symptoms, and substance use signs. Family and friends can mistake the symptoms they observe for the signs of normal aging. Retired seniors do not have the same responsibilities their younger counterparts do, and disruption of those lifestyle functions is often a sign of drug abuse or alcoholism. When the family does believe there could be a problem, they do not know how to address it or ignore it. 

Common factors can cause concern, such as needing more medication consistently and doctor shopping. Secretive drinking habits can be challenging to detect, but being loving and mindful of expressing feelings healthily and changes in senior self-care are red flags. Changes in housekeeping, self-isolation, and mention of sleeping or eating disturbances are vital factors to look for. Elderly substance abuse is more common than thought, so being blind to these changes could end in adverse circumstances. 

Other signs and symptoms of elderly substance abuse include:

  • Increase in bruises or injuries with no explanation
  • Lack of coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Memory loss or increased moments of confusion
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Mood swings
  • Poor hygiene
  • Self-isolation
  • No interest in hobbies or activities 

Find Help For Elderly Substance Abuse Treatment in Georgia

Those who see the signs and symptoms of a substance use disorder in an elderly loved one in Georgia can rely on The Retreat of Atlanta for a treatment center decision. It is a challenging situation, but the compassionate and understanding treatment staff are available to explore the options for recovery. Recovery is an option, even for the elderly population, to live out the future with a sober lifestyle. Contact the center today to work with an admissions counselor.

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