Substance Abuse in Older Adults

How to Find the Best Treatment and Support for Recovery

Substance Abuse in Older Adults

Drug abuse, heavy drinking, stays in rehab centers. It may sound like the life of a wild 30-year-old, or maybe a Hollywood actor. But did you know that more than 4 million seniors over the age of 50 have used an illicit drug during the past year? And according to Johns Hopkins, drug abuse among senior citizens is not only substantial but increasing, anticipated to reach nearly 3 million people in the next 10 years.

There are many factors that make seniors more susceptible to drug and alcohol abuse, many related to the process of getting older. Some people turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with chronic diseases or illness, sometimes inadvertently mixing prescription and over-the-counter medications in dangerous dosages. Others struggle through the loss of a partner, loneliness, and boredom. Some seniors simply carry on with abusive habits formed earlier in life, and without the restraint of a daily job or social system, the habits spiral out of control to become a real problem.

While it can be difficult to recognize signs of substance abuse in seniors because of other existing conditions, or the use of prescription medications, it important to be aware of changes in their behavior and appearance. Signs of a potential problem include:

  • Depression
  • Memory lapse
  • Unsteady walking
  • Changes in appetite
  • Increased isolation
  • Poor hygiene

If you notice these symptoms in a loved one, or in yourself, it’s best not to wait but to contact a treatment center with senior-focused services (not just a general rehabilitation facility) to get more information and schedule a consultation. The good news is that a person is never too old to turn away from addiction and substance abuse, and today there are many agencies that specialize in rehab services and knowledge. The senior set requires special consideration and support that differs from the typical rehab canadian meds support group, so it’s important to find a health care provider that has extensive experience working with seniors.

Things to consider when looking for a senior-friendly rehab facility for yourself or a loved one include:

  • In-house services with a full medical staff available around the clock. Many seniors have additional conditions or medications that must be considered and managed during the detoxification process. The staff should also be familiar with psychiatric and medical needs of seniors, including nutritional deficiencies that often accompany aging and can be compounded by substance abuse.
  • Age-specific programs that are presented at a comfortable pace for seniors and focus on topics more relevant to seniors, such as coping with grief, loneliness, depression, and loss. While everyone may encounter these emotions at some time, seniors may be especially susceptible due to changing life circumstances as they age. It’s also important to find a center that acts with compassion in a non-confrontational manner to aid in the process.
  • Case management services for after discharge. This service can help connect seniors with appropriate psychiatric, medical, and social resources following release from the facility. Aftercare is also especially important for seniors who face isolation and loneliness upon returning home, as this can increase the chance of relapse.
  • A focus on building a social network of support. A senior-focused treatment program should integrate the ability to help build a supportive social network for the senior, who may be facing loneliness after retirement or the loss of a spouse. Helping a senior develop this new network can make the difference in maintaining a healthy lifestyle after leaving the treatment facility.
  • The basics, such as lengths of stay offered, insurance accepted, amenities, and location.

Dealing with the life changes that come with aging can be difficult enough, but battling an addiction to drugs or alcohol, especially alone, can be daunting. Everyone deserves a healthy life and support system, regardless of age, and thankfully many treatment facilities recognize the need for specialized senior care.

Megan Hammons lives in the Central Texas countryside just outside of Austin, pursuing her love for copywriting after a career in high-tech marketing. She is part of a large, diverse family and enjoys spending time with the multiple generations living in her community.


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