With addiction and overdose rates dramatically on the rise, older adults are often overlooked as a vulnerable population to drug and alcohol abuse.
However, the senior population is increasingly at risk for developing addiction to drugs and alcohol.
Addiction on the Rise Among Older Adults
Recent research shows that substance use is rapidly increasing among older adults, including misuse of prescription drugs, illicit drugs, and alcohol.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), nearly 1 million adults aged 65 years or older reported a substance use disorder. The survey also reveals those older adults primarily misuse alcohol and prescription opioids.
Additional statistics from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) show an alarming increase in substance use disorder-related deaths:
- Deaths from opioids increased among Americans aged 65 and older by 53 percent in 2020 over 2019.
- Alcohol-related deaths, on the rise for a decade among seniors, rose by 18 percent.
Many causes can contribute to people turning to drug or alcohol misuse later in life, primarily health issues, mental health conditions like depression, and ongoing mourning of the loss of loved ones and friends.
One specific reason for the increase of addiction among older adults involves the physical and mental changes in aging adults that can often mask the signs of substance abuse that family members and medical professionals may overlook.
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), providers may confuse symptoms of substance use with other signs of aging, including chronic health conditions or reactions to stressful, life-changing events.
Health Impacts of Addiction on Older Adults
For older adults, the health risks associated with substance use disorder can be more harmful and exacerbate other pre-existing conditions. In fact, addiction among seniors can intensify other health problems, including liver and pancreas diseases, immune system disorders, osteoporosis, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and seizures.
Older adults have an increased sensitivity to drug and alcohol misuse because their bodies metabolize substances differently than younger individuals, causing more severe side effects. In addition, older adults are more than likely prescribed medications that can cause dangerous interactions.
According to NIDA, older adults typically metabolize substances more slowly, and their brains can be more sensitive to drugs. Older adults may be more likely to experience mood disorders, lung and heart problems, or memory issues. Drugs can worsen these conditions, exacerbating the negative health consequences of substance use.
Finding Addiction Treatment for Older Adults
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), the following are recommended as effective SUD treatment methods for older adults:
- Cognitive behavioral health
- Milieu therapy/Group therapy
- Individual counseling
- Medical/Psychiatric approaches
- Family support and therapy
- Case Management
Valley Hope Addiction Treatment and Recovery provides a full continuum of co-occurring addiction care, including medical detoxification, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient programs that can help older adults struggling with drugs and alcohol to find healing from SUD.
Founded in 1967, Valley Hope provides patient-centered, compassionate care to adults and families impacted by drug and alcohol addiction. Over more than five decades, Valley Hope has helped more than 350,000 people find hope in recovery from drugs and alcohol.