Addiction isn’t just a problem for the young. It’s actually more common in people 55 and over. There are several reasons an elderly person might turn to drugs or alcohol, such as depression, loneliness, and financial problems. About sixty-three percent of the elderly people who are experiencing some kind of serious addiction problem has been found to also suffer from of anxiety and depression. It complicates matters that some of the signs of addiction are the same as regular effects of aging.
Older people can be prone to loneliness, which might lead to depression. Those who have retired, whose children have moved away, or who have lost a spouse might find themselves with too much time and nothing to do. A lack of obligations also makes it easier to fall into addiction, when there is no one around to notice if you’re neglecting your responsibilities.
Sometimes drug abuse can start off innocently, with a painkiller prescribed for chronic pain. As pain worsens and it takes more medication to manage it, it can be all too easy to cross the line into misuse. Medication for insomnia, which tends to plague older people, can also become addictive.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the most common illegal drug to be used by people ages 50 – 59 was marijuana. Among those 60 and older, prescription drug misuse becomes just as common. One study found that in 2011, 15 percent of seniors were prescribed an opioid when they were discharged from the hospital; three months later, 42 percent were still taking it.
The signs of aging and addiction can mirror each other. For example, changes in sleep patterns or eating, poor hygiene, depression, and anxiety are all signs of drug abuse but also common in the elderly. Mental confusion is another dual symptom, as is the loss of motor control and falls.
There are two types of substance abuse among seniors, early onset, and late onset. Early onset means that the person used drugs earlier in life, which is particularly true of the generation growing up and experimenting with drugs in the 60’s. Even if they kicked the habit decades ago, the problems related to aging may send them back to old habits for comfort. Late-onset refers to those who develop a problem later in life, in response to stressers like pain or the loss of loved ones.
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) states that by the year 2020, illicit drug use among seniors is predicted to double and reach 3.5 million.
Treatment works for people of all ages. Residential treatment can be better for the elderly, particularly if they have other mental or physical problems that need to be monitored. If you or a loved one need help to quit drugs or alcohol, consider Asana Recovery. We offer medical detox, along with both residential and outpatient programs, and you’ll be supervised by a highly trained staff of medical professionals, counselors, and therapists. Call us any time at (949) 483-4504.