Conversations about drug abuse and addiction tend to center around teenagers and young adults. After all, it's no secret that the rates of substance dependence are highest among people between the ages of 18 and 25. Perhaps this is why the scope of substance abuse in older adults, and its devastating effects, are often overlooked or go unspoken. Bethesda Gardens Loveland wants our residents and their families to be aware of the dangers of substance abuse. To understand the origins of this issue and how it can be prevented, here's a closer 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 use disorder. This issue seems to get worse and worse with each passing year; the prevalence of SUD cases among older adults increased from 3.4% to 7.0% between 2000 and 2012 alone.
Because of the health problems that come with aging, such as chronic pain, older adults are more likely to be prescribed medications that have grievous side effects and can be highly addictive. While most younger demographics turn to drug abuse for reasons such as social pressure or escape, older adults are typically brought to the threshold of addiction by chronic physical pain, depression and isolation, anxiety, sleep issues and the feeling of lost independence.
The severity of the effects of substance use disorder takes a greater toll on older adults, particularly in cases of long-term abuse. Research shows that 80% of Baby Boomers — individuals born between 1946 and 1964 — struggle with conditions they attempt to self-medicate, resulting in serious side effects that can include issues with balance and coordination, states of delirium and even the development of cognitive disorders. Furthermore, those who may use medications to alleviate depression, anxiety or mood disorders typically find that their symptoms worsen over long-term use.
In addition to being highly detrimental to one's mental and emotional health, drug abuse in older adults has also been found to take drastic tolls on cardiac and respiratory health and impede neurological functions pertaining to memory. The impaired coordination and reaction time during states of intoxication also come with a high risk of injury.
It’s been found that over 80% of adults between the ages of 57 and 85 are prescribed medication for some form of a chronic condition. Of this 80%, half of them ingest at least four other medications on a daily basis. This creates a high risk of drug-drug interaction, not only exacerbating the side effects of each substance individually but also potentially creating more dangerous ones.
Understanding that SUD impacts older adults on several levels that may be even more severe than those found in other age ranges is the first step to preventing it. These disorders can be treated in older adults, and many steps can be taken to diminish their frequency and extremity.
When it comes to treating SUD, it’s crucial to remember every individual situation is different. Methods that may be effective for somebody you know may not yield the same results for you; in fact, they may 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.
Reconstructing support systems is absolutely vital to recovery. All too often, people try to fight the battle of addiction alone, but a one-man army cannot win this battle — especially when 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 do need a consistent network of reliable care and support to understand your needs and help you improve the quality of your life.
Furthermore, access to medical services that provide individualized, case-by-case management is of utmost importance. Again, no two cases of substance use disorder present the same, and it’s crucial that your support network knows the aspects of your case that are unique to you to ensure you’re getting the best treatment possible. If you are a resident at Bethesda Gardens in Loveland and are struggling with substance abuse, reach out to your caregivers for aid and assistance in building a reinforcing network around you.
Additionally, support groups with same-aged peers bring older adults who share struggles with dependency together and allow them to communicate with and encourage one another. The most important thing to remember is that you're not alone. If you believe you're experiencing symptoms of substance use disorder or struggling with addiction, please reach out to a medical professional.
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