Conversations about substance abuse tend to focus on adolescents and young adults. It's no secret that the rates of drug abuse and substance dependence are highest among people between the ages of 18-25. Due to this fact, the scope of substance abuse in older adults, and the detrimental effects it has, are often overlooked and go unspoken about. To understand the roots of this growing issue and how it can be prevented, take a look at how older adults are affected differently by substance use disorder (SUD) and how it can be alleviated and treated.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, nearly one million adults aged 65 and older struggle with substance abuse disorder. This issue seems to worsen with each passing year — the proportion of SUD admissions among this age range increased from 3.4% to 7.0% between 2000 and 2012 alone.
Because of the health problems that come with the territory of aging, such as chronic pain, older adults are more likely to take prescription medications that can be addictive. While people in younger demographics often turn to drug abuse for reasons such as social pressure, escape or rebellion, it’s normally reasons pertaining to chronic physical pain, depression and isolation, sleep issues and the feeling of lost independence that bring older individuals to the threshold of addiction.
Substance abuse disorder can take a major toll on older adults, especially in cases of long-term abuse. Research shows eight out of ten Baby Boomers — individuals born between 1946-1964 — struggle with conditions they attempt to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. Serious side effects can result, including issues with balance and coordination, states of delirium and even the development of cognitive disorders. Depression, anxiety and mood disorders are just a few potential mental side effects of SUD.
In addition to being detrimental to your cognitive and emotional health, substance dependency in older adults can also cause issues with cardiac and respiratory health. The impaired coordination, judgment and reaction time during states of intoxication also come with high risk for injurious accidents, such as falls and vehicle crashes.
It’s been found that over 80% of adults between the ages of 57-85 are prescribed medication for some form of chronic condition. Of this 80%, half take four or more medications or supplements on a daily basis. This creates a high risk of drug-on-drug interaction, which can potentially be dangerous.
Understanding the potential for and impact of substance abuse disorders in older adults is important. Whether you're an old adult or someone you love is older than 65, realizing that addiction doesn't come with age boundaries helps you be aware of risks and more likely to recognize issues early on. Early intervention can help reduce all of the above risks.
When it comes to treating SUD, it’s essential to remember that every individual situation is different. Methods that may prove effective for somebody you know might not yield the same results for you; in fact, they may even drive you even farther into addiction. There are, however, basic elements of treatment that should be present in any situation to lay a stable foundation from which a lasting recovery can build.
The most efficient treatment models typically start by taking a closer look at any chronic conditions you have that are influencing you to self-medicate in the first place. In doing this, you’re able to get to the root of the problem and re-assess methods of managing pain that better protect mental and emotional health.
Reconstructing support systems is absolutely vital to recovery. All too often, people try to fight the battle of addiction alone, but this is not a battle that can be won by a one-man army. One of the most common reasons older adults turn to substances is loneliness. Whether in the form of family, friends, trusted medical professionals or all of the above, you need a reliable network of consistent support and care to understand your needs and help you to improve the quality of your life.
Improved access to medical services that provide individualized case-by-case management is of utmost importance. Again, no two cases are the same, and it’s crucial that your support network knows the aspects of your case that are unique to you in order to ensure you’re getting the best treatment possible.
Additionally, support groups with same-aged peers bring older adults who share struggles with dependency together and give them the opportunity to communicate with and encourage one another. The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone. If you believe you are experiencing symptoms of substance abuse disorder or struggling with addiction, please reach out to a medical professional. This is not a battle you have to fight alone.
And if you're worried about this issue on behalf of someone else, encourage them to reach out as well.
One great benefit of life in an assisted living community like Park Regency in Loveland is that no one faces life alone. Caring staff and fellow residents look out for each other, and someone who is worried about their medication and the potential of addiction can work with the staff on medication management.