Addiction Resources for Elderly
Senior citizens face a variety of mental illnesses that are often overlooked because of their ages. The American elderly generation, often referred to as baby boomers, makes up 30% of the U.S. population, and millions of them currently have or are at risk of developing a substance use disorder (SUD).
As young adults during the radical and progressive 1960s and 1970s, some of these individuals were raised on experimentation, self-expression and liberal attitudes regarding drugs and alcohol consumption. They were also the first generation to be prescribed heavy doses of what we now know to be extremely addictive pain medications such as OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin.
Drug and Alcohol Abuse Statistics for the Elderly
By 2020, more than 5.7 million adults over 50 are expected to have a substance use disorder.
Alcohol is the most commonly used substance among seniors. This is followed closely by tobacco and prescription drugs. It’s important to consider the cultural differences and educational awareness of the elderly in respect to alcohol and drug use. Those who were an active part of the hippie movement during their youth did not see any problem with the effects of drinking and psychoactive drugs such as LSD. As these people got older, illicit drug use may have tapered off. However, many still rely on alcohol and prescription medication without being fully aware of the role each has in mental health and well-being.
Older adults are more likely to believe addiction is a choice and hold a stereotypical image of an “addict” in their minds. They may not even know about the underlying biological and psychological causes of substance use disorders. As a result, they’re often less likely to consider their own behavior to be problematic or believe they have a substance dependency.
Warning Signs of a Substance Use Disorder Among Senior Citizens
The signs of substance use disorder vary among individuals. In many cases, the warning signs among the elderly are unexpected or misinterpreted. Caretakers and family members often dismiss many abnormal or concerning behaviors as signs of age, but nothing should ever be disregarded simply because a person is a senior citizen.
The elderly need and deserve sobriety just as much as younger adults.
Changes in Behavior and Attitude
Substance use disorders affect the brain’s reward system and chemical regulation. The natural balance of the human brain is upset by drugs and alcohol, which can lead to serious changes in mood and behavior. After a certain period of time, users develop a physical dependence on substances to feel like themselves. When they’re unable to have the regular “dose,” they are prone to appear sullen, anxious or depressed or even get quick to anger and lash out at others.
Pay close attention to how your loved one behaves and what circumstances seem to precede their actions. Are they angry when they cannot drink or take their medication? Do they seem to change into a happier person after they drink or take painkillers?
Excuses for Taking Medication
A person who has a problem with prescription pills will find reasons to take them beyond their intended purpose. They might say that the dose they were prescribed isn’t high enough or say that they’re taking them as a preventative measure. They may try to guilt others into letting them take more than they need because they’re in pain and the medication is the only thing that helps.
Having Routines Around Alcohol or Drugs
Millions of adults unwind with a glass of wine at the end of the day, believing that a small amount of daily alcohol has health benefits. It’s important to note, though, that modern research has debunked this theory and found that drinking every day can have negative effects, including increased risk of heart disease, obesity and high blood pressure.
Substance abuse may start off as a social occurrence. People with a high-functioning alcohol use disorder (AUD) will often have routines structured around drinking that others consider normal. Drinking every night or only on the weekends to “relax” can actually be a way to fuel an addiction without raising concern.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that approximately 40% of adults over 65 drink. Alcohol dependency poses unique risks to the elderly population, including reactions with prescription medication and worsening existing health conditions. Taking a close look at the role that drinking or other substances play in someone’s life can help identify problematic use.
Keeping Medication “Just in Case”
A “purse supply” of prescription medication can be a sign that someone is really afraid to run out of the drugs they are dependent on. While having a backup of important prescription medications is always recommended, stockpiling painkillers is often a sign that someone has a dependency.
Frequently Changing Doctors
To avoid raising suspicion, seniors with opioid addictions will often change doctors. They may say that their old physician didn’t listen to them or take their health problems seriously. They might visit new doctors and outright ask for a prescription or higher dose of a drug they’re already taking.
Using Multiple Pharmacists
Having prescriptions at multiple pharmacies from different doctors is another way that seniors protect their addictions. Running out of the drugs is the worst possible thing that could happen in their minds, so they may take precautionary measures to avoid ever having to go without them.
Becoming Angry Over Talk of Substance Use
Most people with a substance use disorder are aware they have a problem, but admitting they do might not be something they’re ready to face. To deflect, they’ll become defensive or argumentative whenever someone voices concerns over their consumption. You might ask them whether they really need another glass of wine only to have them yell at you; trying to gently bring up the subject of their drug usage may result in a hostile attitude and even withdrawing altogether.
Avoiding Consumption Around Others
One of the strongest indicators someone has a substance use disorder is isolating and using drugs or drinking in secret. Those who use in secret might act irritable or withdrawn around others or even appear paranoid about getting caught or questioned. They may start to spend more and more time alone as their substance use worsens.
Rehab Options for the Elderly
Getting treatment for an addiction is never easy, but there are added challenges to proper rehabilitation for senior citizens. They may have health conditions that require medication or special accommodations, or they may require general assistance with daily living that prevents them from going to a traditional rehab facility.
At Granite Recovery Centers, we offer a wide range of treatment options for people with varying substance use disorders, dual diagnoses and health issues. Our flexible outpatient treatment and individual drug and alcohol therapy may be the best options for seniors who are unable to live at one of our centers for a residential program.
We provide customized treatment models that incorporate a variety of techniques, including cognitive behavior therapy, gestalt therapy, holistic addiction treatment and specialized types of addiction therapy for overcoming grief and loss, trauma, PTSD, depression and other afflictions.
Regardless of age, we believe that it’s never too late to get help, and recovery begins by embracing people wherever they are on their life journey. The first step is starting the conversation about acknowledging a substance use disorder and getting help.
How to Talk to a Loved One About Addiction
The conversation with an older adult about substance abuse is much different than it is with younger individuals. Some people believe that the elderly are too old to change or that they need drugs or alcohol to cope with difficult experiences or find joy in life. However, there is so much more out there for anyone who relies on substances.
It can be especially challenging if the person you’re speaking to is considerably older than you. Having the conversation might make you feel like you’re being disrespectful. However, you can bring up the topic of addiction and express your concerns without being aggressive or crossing any boundaries. Here are a few suggestions to help.
Being direct is always best. Rather than hint about someone’s substance use, let them know what you want to talk about. Just keep the focus on the issue at hand, not the individual. Rather than saying, “you’re drinking too much” or “you need to stop taking so much medication,” consider the alternatives, “I’m really concerned about your drinking” or “I’ve noticed some things that have me worried about you and the medication you’re taking.”
Put Empathy First
It’s common for people to become aggressive and defensive when they’re confronted about their addictions. Even those with a mild substance dependency can feel embarrassed when someone actually points it out. Make sure that you are in the right frame of mind to respond calmly and empathetically to any hostility. Don’t take their reactions personally. Understand how they might be feeling, what might have led them to develop this problem in the first place and what you could say to bring them comfort and guidance.
Acknowledge Their Feelings
People are entitled to their feelings regardless of whether or not we agree with them. Even if they seem to be based on inaccurate assumptions, it’s important to remember that whatever they’re feeling is real to them. To avoid conflict, make sure that you give them an opportunity to speak and actively listen. Hold eye contact, nod and use affirmative statements to demonstrate you care about what they have to say.
Offer the Help They’re Willing to Accept Today
Addiction recovery is not a one-time process; it’s often a decision that takes time to commit to. The stages of recovery begin with contemplation, so if your loved one is willing to even consider learning more about substance use disorder and treatment options, that’s a start. Don’t go into the conversation trying to force them into a program right away.
Rehab can be brought up, but it should be something discussed rather than demanded. Senior citizens may depend entirely on their family or caretakers to survive. Furthermore, there can be power dynamics involved that make it easy to force choices upon them. Their independence and dignity should be respected and valued regardless of their limitations.
Granite Recovery Centers Drug and Alcohol Rehab
Helping a senior citizen to quit drinking or using harmful drugs can add years to their life; the mental and emotional benefits of overcoming addiction are not limited to any demographic. It’s always the right choice to get help and stop the cycle.
To learn more about rehab for senior citizens and other types of addiction treatment, contact us today. Granite Recovery Centers have multiple locations throughout New Hampshire that can help accommodate people from all walks of life.