Becoming Addicted Later in Life

older adults

Addiction is a disease that can happen to anyone, regardless of their ethnicity, background, values, gender identity or age. The baby boom generation is one of the largest segments of the U.S. population, and a substantial number of American adults now fit the criteria for being senior citizens. Our aging population requires a new appreciation of the importance of identifying and treating substance use in older adults.  

Can Older Adults Develop Substance Use Disorders?

Specific details on addiction in older adults are somewhat lacking, which is one reason health providers may overlook or misdiagnose this problem. Historically, older adults have not demonstrated high rates of binge drinking or drug use compared with younger generations, nor have they sought professional help at substance abuse treatment programs. 

For these reasons, there remains a persistent misconception that older people do not use or abuse intoxicants. However, becoming addicted later in life is possible. Here are some things you should know if you think you or a loved one might be struggling with an untreated substance use disorder. 

1. Caregivers Might Not Know What to Look For

Due to insufficient knowledge of addiction in older adults, combined with rushed office visits, health care providers often overlook the warning signs of substance abuse among their older patients. For example, a nurse or doctor might assume bruises on a senior patient are the result of thinner skin, when they’re actually souvenirs of a fall while the person was intoxicated. To compound the issue, older people often have medical conditions that mimic substance abuse symptoms, such as dementia.  

2. Patients Could Be Misusing Their Prescription Medications

According to statistics from the Kaiser Family Foundation, almost 90% of senior citizens aged 65 and older regularly take prescription drugs to manage various chronic health conditions. Meanwhile, 54% of adults 65 and older report taking four or more prescription drugs. These medications could interact with each other in ways that make it more likely a user could develop an addiction to one or more substances.

Older adults who struggle with memory and cognition issues might also misread the instructions on their prescription or unintentionally take their meds in higher-than-intended doses, thus making themselves more vulnerable to an increased tolerance, dependence and, eventually, an addiction.

3. Older Adults May Struggle With Unaddressed Mental Health Issues

In many cases, the life changes that accompany aging may cause anxiety, stress or grief. For example, as you age, you might undergo sad or traumatic events such as: 

  • Becoming an empty nester. 
  • Transitioning into retirement. 
  • Dealing with an illness. 
  • Mourning the death of a parent, spouse, sibling or friend. 

After an adjustment period, some older adults can regain their emotional equilibrium, but others do not and could develop depression or PTSD. Instead of asking for help by reaching out to a therapist or trusted confidante, they may try to ignore their problems or numb the pain by abusing alcohol or drugs, therefore fueling a worsening substance abuse issue.

Addiction Treatment for Men and Women Aged 55+

If you’ve admitted you have a problem with addiction later in life, or have persuaded an older relative to seek treatment, Pine Grove’s Legacy program is an ideal place for aging adults and senior citizens to undergo a full continuum of customized care among their peers of a similar age range. Contact us today to learn about addiction treatment for older adults. 

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