Substance abuse among the elderly
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Substance abuse among the elderly
03-26-15 Category: Addiction Treatment


Substance abuse among the elderly

When a person thinks of the stereotypical substance abuser, many images may come to mind. Perhaps it is that of rebellious teenager who spends late nights away from home because of drug experimentation. One may also imagine a successful business executive who uses cocaine to work longer hours and increase income. Yet though many do not typically think of older adults as having a substance abuse problem, a recent study demonstrates that such behavior in this age group is growing into a nationwide epidemic.

The wide-range study was conducted over the course of a decade. Findings have shown that alcoholism affects nearly three million Americans who are 55 and older. This number is expected to roughly double in size by the start of the next decade. Additionally, the rate of adults aged 50 and older who experience substance abuse has more than doubled in the years from 2002 to 2013. Recent research now shows that retirement is not the only factor that increases this likelihood. The study included more than 1,000 participants, including people aged from their early 50s to their mid 70s.

The nature of older adulthood includes unfortunate events such as the passing of friends or spouses. Retirement may also lead an individual to experience financial duress and lack of direction or goals. The retiree is also often more likely to experience depression as a result of this. Retirement also has the potential to increase marital stress. All of these factors can play a role in the greater likelihood of substance abuse.

Most common groups of substance abusers
There are two different types of substance abusers that are defined among older adults. One group includes the hardy survivors. These are adults who have managed to reach retirement age or older, despite a lifetime of substance or alcohol abuse. This is increasingly common as the baby boomer generation ages, as many came of age during the 1960s and 1970s when substance abuse was ubiquitous.

There is also the demographic known as the late onset substance abusers. This group consists of those who have begun to use drugs or alcohol later in life. This is often a result of not being able to properly cope with the transitions and adjustment of older adulthood. This type of sufferer could go to great lengths to keep their substance abuse private, as he or she may be embarrassed, especially since it has not been normal behavior in the past.

There are many unfortunate circumstances that may result in substance abuse among this demographic. Older adults will not be as physically capable of handling the physical and mental deterioration that addiction leads to. Health problems are more likely as the body will not be as resilient to such abuse. Of course, not being employed or being a parent of a young child may nonetheless cause a greater temptation to use.

If an older adult has an accident due to substance abuse, such as slipping and falling, he or she will be more prone to injury. The body also produces less liver enzymes as a person ages, which means alcohol is not metabolized as easily. There is also less water present in the body to reduce the ratio.

Often older adults will be prescribed medications to assist them with different health ailments that arise. Hence, there is also the danger that alcohol or illicit substances may produce adverse reactions as a result of being combined with medication. If the adult is living alone, knowledge of the substance abuse will naturally be less likely to friends and relatives.

There are multiple signs that an older adult may be abusing drugs or alcohol. He or she may be secretive about their daily activities or may have bruises for no apparent reason. There may be difficulties with memory or concentration. The sufferer may act illogically or lack proper hygiene habits. Participation in activities the adult has enjoyed in the past may decrease, as well as instances of social interaction. Withdrawal symptoms and difficulties with money can also occur.


When it comes to treatment it will first be necessary for these adults to be made aware of the dangers of their use. Some may have had lifetime habits of substance abuse and have not realized how much more at risk they now are. The abuser may also benefit from joining a support group, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. This will give them an opportunity to connect with and identify with others going through the same struggles. Therapy may also offer those with drug or alcohol dependence an effective means of adapting their behavior. By accepting such solutions, sufferers will be on the path to regaining security and fulfillment in their lives.

Sovereign Health of California offers holistic treatment plans that help patients recover from substance abuse. They include cognitive behavioral therapy, medication to relieve withdrawal symptoms and more. We also teach our clients significant life skills that help ensure their lasting recovery and sobriety. To see how we can best help you or a loved one, please contact our admissions team today at (866) 819-0427.

Written by Ryan McMaster, Sovereign Health Group writer

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