The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that approximately one million adults aged 65 and older live with a substance use disorder. Many older adults may abuse alcohol or drugs to deal with life changes that occur with age, including changes in their bodies, their living situations, and their relationships. Fortunately, it is never too late to seek help for a substance use disorder. People of all ages can overcome addiction and live a happier, healthier lifestyle.
Contributing Factors of a Substance Use Disorder in Older Adults
Substance use disorders in older adults can often be confused with symptoms common with aging: confusion, clumsiness, mood swings, and more. While alcohol is the most common substance used by aging adults, prescription and illegal drugs are also abused. In addition to having chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart conditions, or high blood pressure, the aging person may experience any number of the following stressors:
- Death of a spouse or loved one
- Retirement from a job
- Children or grandchildren moving away
- Reduced finances that result in financial difficulties
- Chronic pain or other chronic health conditions
- Depression and anxiety
- Sleep problems
- Changes in living arrangements, such as moving to a nursing home or relocating to a different location
Older adults who may have had substance use disorders in the past may be at a higher risk of relapsing as they age.
Since older adults take more prescription drugs than others, they may have access to medicines that can be dangerous and addictive, such as medications used to treat pain, anxiety, or sleep disturbances.
As a person ages, they become more sensitive to medicines due to how their body metabolizes the drug. Due to this, medications can have stronger side effects and remain longer in a person’s system as they age. Misusing or abusing medication can increase an older person’s risk for accidents, injuries, and overdose. If an older person combines alcohol with medication such as pain or sleeping pills, it can be deadly.
Since many signs of a substance use disorder in an older person can be similar to signs of aging, it is essential to know what signs may indicate that the person may be misusing alcohol or other substances. You may notice changes in the person’s appearance, such as poor hygiene due to a lack of bathing, keeping clothing clean, etc. In addition, some common warning signs of a substance use disorder in an older person may include:
- Confusion or memory loss
- Slurred or slow speech
- Loss of interest in things they once enjoyed
- Isolating from friends and family
- Constantly having unexplained injuries or bruises
- Increased tolerance for medication
- Changes in mood
- Feeling depressed or anxious
- Inability to sleep
- Having financial or legal problems
- Needing more medication beyond what was prescribed by a physician
Treating Substance Use Disorders in Older Adults
Anyone seeking treatment for substance use disorder may also require treatment of a co-occurring mental health disorder, like depression and anxiety. Co-occurring disorder treatment for adults of any age may include:
- Detox treatment program
- Medication for mental health disorders
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Individual counseling
- Group therapy and family therapy
- A support group such as Alcoholic Anonymous or other 12-step meetings with other adults facing similar problems
Are You Looking For a Georgia Recovery Center?
If you or an aging loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder, contact Twin Lakes Recovery Center. We are a leading Monroe, Georgia, treatment center and offer a variety of treatments and programs for people of all ages. We can help those with substance use disorders, alcohol use disorders, and co-occurring disorders. Our programs include medically supervised alcohol and drug detox, inpatient residential treatment, intensive outpatient program, relapse prevention, and more.