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A Look at Substance Abuse in Older Adults

John Templeton Jr. - December 4, 2020

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Substance abuse continues to be one of the biggest public health concerns in the country. Addiction affects people of all walks of life, no matter their age, occupation or lifestyle. Unfortunately, there’s one group of people affected by addiction who are often forgotten: older adults.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, roughly 17 percent of adults over 60 struggles with substance abuse. We’ll explore the reasons why older adults grapple with addiction and why their condition tends to be overlooked.

Why is Addiction So Common with Seniors?

It’s important to keep in mind that many factors can trigger substance abuse. For seniors, in particular, substance abuse is a common way to cope with stress and anxiety. Major life changes also take an emotional toll on older adults, as well. Some of these major life events can include:

  • Retirement
  • Death of a spouse
  • A loss of income or financial stress
  • Physical or mental health decline
  • Moving to a senior living community
  • Stressed family relationships

The Dangers of Substance Abuse for Seniors

Older adults struggling with substance abuse are more likely to suffer from serious side effects. For example, those over the age of 65 have a limited ability to metabolize drugs and alcohol. This means they run a higher risk of overdose, since their bodies often take longer to process their substance of use.

Older adults are also more likely to develop an addiction to prescription painkillers. As seniors age, they are prescribed medications to manage chronic pain and recover from surgeries and injuries. Family members oftentimes encourage their loved ones to take their medications, unaware of the dangers of prescription opioids. This reliance can lead to a toxic dependence that can negatively impact older adults’ health and well-being.

The Challenge of Identifying Addiction in Older Adults

Unfortunately, substance abuse can be a challenge to diagnose by medical professionals. This is because many alcohol and drug abuse symptoms like forgetfulness or fatigue also occur in many age-related conditions. For example, an older adult who complains of short-term memory loss and depression during an exam may be diagnosed with dementia rather than a substance abuse disorder. Unless the older adult confides to their doctor about their substance abuse, it’s likely to be overlooked.

Sadly, this type of situation has become far too common and more seniors are struggling with substance abuse in silence. If you have a senior loved one who you think might be abusing drugs or alcohol, how can you tell?

How to Identify Drug and Alcohol Abuse in Older Adults

Many of the symptoms of substance abuse in older adults look just like many age-related conditions. If you think your senior loved one is suffering from substance abuse, start by examining their behavior.

It’s common for seniors to lose interest in their regular hobbies or passions when they have a substance use disorder. They also are much more likely to have unexplained mood swings. If none of these behaviors are obvious, look for an increase in beer or wine bottles throughout the house. If your loved one has prescription medications, check to see if they are taking the drugs as prescribed or going through them too quickly.

Footprints Beachside Recovery is Here to Help Older Adults with Addiction

If you or a senior loved one is suffering from substance abuse, there is hope for lasting recovery. At Footprints Beachside Recovery, we understand the emotional challenges that many older adults go through. We can help you or your loved one identify the underlying cause of addiction and achieve lasting recovery.

Our family-run addiction treatment center in Florida can give you a fresh start, free from the grip of drug or alcohol addiction. We focus on treating the whole person and create a personalized treatment plan for every client.

Are you or your loved one ready to reclaim everything that addiction has stolen from your life? Contact our admissions team today to get started.

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