What Does Addiction Look Like in Elderly People?
When an elderly loved one uses drugs, you might notice any of the following signs and symptoms. You’ll notice that while some of these signs are similar in young people who abuse drugs, other signs are fairly unique to elderly individuals.
- Ritualistic drinking (e.g., needing wine after dinner)
- Visiting multiple doctors
2.5 million elderly adults abuse drugs or alcohol.
Why Do Elderly People Use Drugs?
Elderly people, like young people, can abuse drugs for a variety of different reasons. Even in old age, genetics and co-occurring mental illnesses play a role in addiction. Other factors include the items on the list below:
- Job burnout (in non-retirees)
- Boredom or lack of purpose (in retirees)
- PTSD (in war veterans and trauma victims)
- Fear of life changes
Once again, some reasons for elderly drug abuse overlap with reasons for young adult drug abuse. However, many of these reasons apply mostly to older individuals.
As a whole, the older generation uses more prescriptions than younger generations.
The elderly, of course, experience more medical conditions that require prescription treatment. Some of these prescriptions, however, can lead to dependence and addiction. This fact has created a major problem among the elderly population. Two of the biggest culprits in this problem are opioids and benzodiazepines.
Opioids are a group of pain-relieving medications that commonly lead to addiction. Unfortunately, back when many of today’s elderly patients received their first opioid prescriptions, doctors didn’t know how addictive these pills could be. As a result, doctors didn’t monitor their patients very closely, and millions of people developed addictions. The elderly, who deal with more physical pain than the general population, received many of those addictive prescriptions before anybody realized how addictive they were.
Benzodiazepines are tranquilizer drugs that some doctors prescribe for sleeplessness and panic disorders, among other things. Some more familiar names for benzodiazepines include Valium and Xanax. Unlike some other prescription medications, benzodiazepines are not intended for long-term use. However, because they can create a quick dependency, many people use these drugs much longer than their doctors ever intended. Elderly people, who may experience sleeplessness and anxiety due to life changes, are at risk for benzodiazepine addiction.
If you have a loved one who may be addicted to drugs, contact Rehab Info at 800-482-QUIT.
The Generational Gap
Often, elderly patients with addiction are either ignored or misdiagnosed.
People in older generations grew up with more of a stigma surrounding addiction and other mental illnesses. While some of that stigma still exists today, young people tend to have an easier time viewing addiction in a different light. Elderly people, on the other hand, might see addiction as a moral failing rather than a treatable illness. They may face more shame about their addictions than younger people would face. As a result, many older addicted people are reluctant to talk to a doctor or anybody else about the problem. Furthermore, symptoms of drug addiction in elderly people often look like symptoms of age-related illnesses. Frustration and forgetfulness, for example, may be symptoms of dementia, but they can also be symptoms of an addiction.
Treating Older Adults
Rehab tends to benefit older adults as much as it benefits younger adults. However, people in older generations do need special considerations for treatment. For example, the detox process may take longer in aging bodies, so medical professionals should keep this fact in mind when providing treatment.
Furthermore, the different viewpoints of elderly individuals can impact the treatment process. We’ve already mentioned that elderly patients are more likely to view addiction as a moral failing. Treatment professionals should be prepared for this viewpoint and understand how to counteract it. Teaching patients how to overcome shame is a major obstacle for any addiction treatment, but it is especially difficult and important for older individuals.
Elderly people can attend any drug and rehab facility that serves the general population. However, some rehab programs were designed specifically for older adults. Many elderly patients may feel more comfortable in these settings.
After rehab, elderly patients should continue to seek treatment. However, because of the generational stigma surrounding mental illness, older people may struggle to open up to a counselor in one-on-one therapy. Group therapy with other elderly individuals may appeal more to these patients. This route can remove some of the loneliness that comes from elderly drug addiction.
Finding a Place to Start
If you have an elderly relative who is struggling with a drug addiction, or if you yourself may have an addiction, you don’t have to deal with it alone. Rehab Info can help you start treatment and find support.