What does addiction look like in older adulthood?
Senior Citizens With Addiction Drug addiction and alcoholism among older adults is a rapidly growing issue that is often underestimated and not give the proper attention. Most people don’t imagine that their elderly loved one could be at risk for substance abuse and addiction. However, there are many risk factors that can lead an older adult into addiction. Older adults, also known as senior citizens or the elderly, are known as individuals above the age of 65. Senior Citizens with Addiction are usually classified into two different groups: the late on-set group and the hardy survivors. The late on-set group are elderly individuals that develop an addiction to substances or alcohol later on in life, while the hardy survivors are the individuals who have been abusing substances and alcohol for many years and all the way into their senior years.
Why are older adults at risk?
Many changes that occur in later adulthood can trigger a senior citizen to abuse substances and alcohol. The challenges that occur in later adulthood can pile up and lead someone to cope in unhealthy ways. Some of these risk factors include:
- Leaving a job or being let go can be extremely stressful and hard to handle. A lot of people find that their job is a huge part of their identity. Letting a job go can leave someone feeling empty. Not to mention the amount of free time that is now available can leave some vulnerable to boredom, depression, loneliness, etc.
- Loss of financial stability
- Some elderly individuals are let go from their jobs or their retirement funds do not support them enough and then find themselves in a financial crisis. Medical bills and extra support like nurses, add up and easily empty pockets. The financial stress can push someone over the edge into substance abuse.
- Death of loved ones
- Grief is a big part of older adulthood. Many senior citizens lose their friends, partners, animal companions, and other loved ones because of health issues and old age. This loss can be devastating and some try to replace their loved ones with drinking or using drugs.
- Being placed in a nursing home
- Changing from living independently to a nursing home can stir up a lot of negative emotions. It is difficult to give up independence and let others come in and help. Furthermore, nursing homes can be dysfunctional and abusive at times. If someone is living in a destructive nursing home, substances and alcohol may be the only source of comfort for an elderly person.
- Health issues
- Physical health and mental health declines as individuals age. Some develop things like Alzheimer’s, depression and chronic physical pain from things like arthritis. Deterioration in health can push folks into addiction. Most prescription drug abuse occurs by accident. An individual will be prescribed something for a health issue and will become dependent on it or perhaps the medication interacts with other medications and causes harmful effects. Furthermore, growing older slows down the body’s ability to process medication which can make older adults more prone to becoming addicted to a substance and harmful side effects.
- Older adults are often times prescribed opioids and benzodiazepines which both have a high potential for addiction. Without knowledge of how these medications work and interact with others, individuals can experience negative effects.
- Family conflict and transitions
- With age, roles in families can change. Someone who was once the patriarchy of the family may now become someone less involved because of their older age. This role change can be hard to adjust to. Transitions like children growing into adults and moving on with their own lives can be really difficult for older adults to adjust to. Individuals may feel lonely and grief with their children move on and create their own lives outside of their parents.
What are the symptoms:
Drugs and alcohol may actually mimic other health issues that older adults experience which can make diagnosis difficult. Things like dementia can look similar to someone being heavily under the influence. This can lead to misdiagnosis and mistreatment. Often times people assume that older individuals are senile and ignore signs of substance abuse or addiction. There are addiction and substance abuse signs to look for in senior citizens with addiction which include:
- Memory loss or problems
- Filling the same prescription from more than one doctor
- Changes in sleeping and eating habits
- Slurred speech
- Chronic health complaints
- Unexplained bruises
- Hostility, irritability or depression
- Solitary behavior
- Poor hygiene
- Loss of interest in hobbies or interests
- Heavy drinking
- Deteriorating relationships
- Often talk about medicine and have anxiety around it
- Sneak or hide medicine
- Taking medicine without reading the label
- Have struggled with substance abuse and alcoholism before
Senior Citizens With Addiction – Pathway to Recovery:
Addiction and substance abuse is harmful no matter what age you are; however, it is even more harmfuAl to older adults. Older adults may be unaware of the severe impact that substance abuse may have on them. It is imperative that addiction and substance abuse is diagnosed and treated and in a way that is sensitive to this unique stage in life. Senior Citizens with Addiction
tend to lack social support, especially when recovering. Treatment centers and supports groups must provide specialized support when working with older adults. Although age is an important factor in recovery, treatment from addiction and substance abuse is always possible no matter how old someone is.