While we don’t often think of the elderly suffering from substance abuse problems, addiction is a growing epidemic among older adults. Whether from prescription medications, illegal narcotics or alcohol abuse, there are more elderly people struggling with addiction every day. Unfortunately, successful treatment can be even more challenging for this age group, so unique programs must be developed.
The Face of Elderly Substance Addiction
According to reports from the U.S. Census Bureau, by 2050, they estimate the number of people aged 65 or older will rise to 83.7 million people. Of those, researchers estimate that over 6 million will abuse alcohol by 2020 and the number that abuse drugs will more than double from 2013 to 2020. While some may be quick to blame prescription misuse for those skyrocketing numbers, there may be other contributory causes of elderly addiction.
Those people born in the Baby Boom generation spent their teens and young adult years experimenting with drugs and alcohol use throughout the 60s and 70s. Now, those people are reaching their retirement years and many may have never had to previously confront their addictions. As they become more reliant on health insurance and limited retirement incomes, they may be experiencing more problems in obtaining their substance of choice. Additionally, addiction becomes more easily recognized, as the elderly enter assisted living facilities.
The Challenge of Treating Elderly Addiction
In many cases, elderly individuals suffering from substance abuse problems are also often battling depression or other mental illnesses. This requires drug rehab for women and men in their golden years to be coupled with mental health treatments to ensure a more successful recovery. While there are programs that address co-occurring conditions for people of all ages, the elderly often benefit more from programs specifically targeting their age groups.
This is helpful, partly because younger individuals are more likely to suffer from addiction related to the opioid crisis, while older adults are addicted to other substances. The triggers and causes of their addictions are often different, as well. For instance, older adults are more likely to abuse controlled substances out of loneliness, depression, or a means of self-medicating. Conversely, younger adults become addicted through peer pressure or trying to get an artificial boost of productivity.
While treatment programs may be similar, there are Education, therapy, structured sober living homes, and support services tailored to specifically address the needs of older adults. While they may also require a medical detox, there may be health concerns that place elderly addicts at greater risk. For that reason, a more gradual process may be applied and the individual may require more medical supervision.
The caregivers responsible for administering a medical detox will also have to take greater care in exposing the patient to medication. He or she will likely be taking other prescription medications for heart conditions, diabetes, or other illnesses, which may make adverse reactions to a medicated detox more likely. By taking the time to account for all medications and attempt to predict interactions, the patient may be able to get clean more safely. Counselors might also recommend alternatives to some medications to help avoid the overuse of prescriptions.
Once the elderly addict is clean and sober, preventing a relapse is just as problematic as it is with younger individuals. Getting the elderly patient into a structured program with individual therapy and group counseling programs can help reduce the chances that a relapse will occur. Addiction treatment centers often recommend that the recovering addict maintain contact with a caseworker to discuss their progress in adjusting to a normal routine. By requiring this type of reporting, the individual will be less likely to slip and begin using again.