Drug Addiction Among the Over-60

Addiction rehab for the elderly

Addiction can happen to anyone

According to Rehabs.com, addiction among the over-60 is one the nation’s fastest growing health problems. There are several reasons why this problem’s growing so quickly. First of all, as is now commonly known, people are living longer. The retired Baby Boomer population’s growing at a staggering rate. As people become older, they can become bored or lonely in retirement, or they can suffer from chronic pain, or they experience losses as friends and family die.

Most elderly people aren’t using drugs to get high and party necessarily, but they might misuse drugs for the above reasons –then a certain percentage of these older drug users become addicted. There are more drugs now than ever to deal with practically every human problem imaginable, and many of these drugs are potentially addictive.

There’s also an increase in alcohol abuse. Maybe a person had a career that prevented her from drinking as much as she would’ve liked, but now in retirement she can drink like she wants to drink, thus developing a problem. It could be in many cases that alcoholism progressed slowly and now in a longer life the late stage of alcoholism is more prominent.

Unfortunately, drug addiction among the elderly is often overlooked. As I’ve written here before, health care providers often don’t know what to look for when it comes to drug addiction — they’re busy dealing with the symptoms of drug addiction. Family members are sometimes dependent on the person who has the drug addiction, and they don’t want to create problems. Many times it’s overlooked in families because of the stigma still attached to addiction. It’s embarrassing socially, although it should be treated like any other health concern.

This is also from Rehabs.com:

A study in the Annals of Epidemiology projects that the number of people age 50 and older abusing prescription drugs could increase 190 percent over the next two decades, going from 911,000 in 2001 to almost 2.7 million by the year 2020.

I predict that age-specific treatment facilities will emerge in the next decade. Our seniors deserve better. Drug addiction among the over-60 is a serious problem that requires specialized treatment.

Alcohol and the elderly

alcohol and the elderly

Age-specific treatment

Alcohol presents more complications as people age: there are more falls and injuries; alcohol’s effects on memory are often mistaken for Alzheimer; older people take medications that interact poorly with alcohol; alcohol worsens the physical problems of old age; because the liver is usually damaged from years of drinking, it doesn’t take near as much alcohol to get an older person intoxicated.

In treatment we’ll often hear from an older person that they have cut down on their drinking, so they don’t know why the family is so concerned. The older drinker hasn’t really cut down, it’s just that it doesn’t take as much alcohol to get the same effect.

Most older alcoholics don’t seek treatment, although there will soon be millions of baby boomers who need treatment for alcoholism. The problem will likely be alcohol plus other mood-altering, addictive medicine. This is another reason older people have a hard time realizing they have a problem — the mood-altering medicine they take reduces their alcohol intake even more, but the combination can still be debilitating. Often alcohol enhances the effects of mood-altering medicine.

I’m not sure what it will take to get older people into treatment. It won’t be so easy to write off all the complications as old age problems when people start living longer into their 90s and beyond. There’s a lot of time living with an alcohol problem from 60 to 90, that is if alcohol doesn’t cause a premature death. The main issue, though, is quality of life. Knowing what we know about alcoholism, it’s not as if the older person is having a party every day in retirement. Alcoholism is a painful and debilitating disease that strips a person of dignity and self-esteem — it creates broken relationships and puts enormous strain on families. Dying from alcoholism in old age is one of the worst endings to life I can imagine. Life doesn’t have to end like this.

The treatment field might have to respond by creating senior-specific treatment facilities. Older people don’t relate to younger people in group therapy as well as they relate to people their age.

The problem of alcohol and the elderly will also become very costly as physical complications from alcohol use fester for years. Healthcare professionals will have to identify alcohol problems earlier and deal with the problems in much more solution-oriented ways. There’s been a tendency to let older people have their vices, but as we all live longer and longer, I don’t think the problems caused by alcohol in the later years can be ignored.

Alcohol and the Elderly

Never too late for recovery

Never too late for recovery

There have been periodic reports that claim moderate drinking in old age might be beneficial health-wise. Moderate drinking, though, is like one drink a day. For the most part, alcohol misuse among the elderly is complicated and most often devastating if the problem is advanced.

Often, alcohol problems among the elderly go undetected. What’s wrong with an older person enjoying alcohol in retirement? There’s nothing wrong with drinking, per se, but there are special considerations when dealing with alcohol and the elderly. What type of medication is the elderly person taking, and how does this medication interact with alcohol? Is the elderly person’s liver functioning normally? I’ve talked to elderly alcoholics who claim they are drinking less than they once did, so they can’t have a problem — what happened is that their liver was damaged and the alcohol basically went straight into the blood stream, thus taking less alcohol to create the same effect as before. Just because the elderly alcoholic is drinking less doesn’t mean they’ve learned to control their drinking — it usually means the liver is not functioning properly and it takes less alcohol to achieve the desired effects. This is from The International Center for Alcohol Policies.

Older adults are more sensitive to the negative health effects of alcohol than their younger counterparts. This is due to their generally poorer health status and increased likelihood that they use medications that may interact with alcohol (Fink et al., 2002). In addition, the normal ageing process is accompanied by certain physiological changes that can exacerbate the potential for harm. For example, a decrease in total body water and an increase in body fat in the elderly affect the body’s ability to absorb and metabolize alcohol, resulting in higher blood alcohol concentrations than in younger people for the same amount of alcohol consumed (Adams & Cox, 1995; Meier & Seitz, 2008; Onder et al., 2002; Seitz & Simanowski, 1994; Weathermon & Crabb, 1999; see also ANNEX 1: The Basics about Alcohol). For older people, therefore, alcohol consumption, in some circumstances, may be associated with greater risk for injury (Resnick & Junlapeeya, 2004; Yuan et al., 2001), and sustained heavy drinking is associated with a number of negative health outcomes (e.g., elevated risk for gastric cancer in elderly women: Song et al., 2008; liver disease: Meier & Seitz, 2008; diabetes: Riserus & Ingelsson, 2007; depressive/anxiety symptoms: Kirchner et al., 2007). Drinking may be a particular issue for older women. Hormonal changes accompanying menopause may contribute to elevated risk of breast cancer with increased alcohol consumption levels (Onland-Moret, Peeters, van der Schouw, Grobbee, & van Gils, 2005).

It’s complicated treating an elderly person for an alcohol problem, but professionals trained to deal wit the special needs can help add quality years to the end of life. It’s a shame to die a painful death from alcoholism in retirement when a person should be enjoying the freedom of not working and doing what they really like to do. While an alcoholic might give the impression they enjoy drinking, when it becomes a problem it’s a painful, frightening and confusing existence.