The Drug Class Blog

Apr 29

The Elderly and Addiction

Thanks to Roseanne Lockinger for the guest post article.


Most people understand that addiction doesn’t discriminate.

It doesn’t matter whether you are male or female, rich or poor, how much education you have or whether or not you are a parent, anyone can struggle with this disease. With that said, there are still persistent stereotypes regarding who is an addict. Many people still see substance abuse as a young person’s game. And while it’s certainly true that the 18 - 25 set are probably the biggest consumers of substances, it doesn’t mean that there is some kind of age limit on addiction.

When it comes to people you don’t suspect of using or abusing drugs or alcohol, the elderly are probably at the top of the list. They are also the population that is least served by the treatment industry.

The Elderly Are A Neglected Population This is true in so many ways. Our society simply doesn’t notice what is currently the fastest growing age group in the country. Not only that, but many -- including health professionals -- are failing to notice or understand the growing problem of addiction in this population.

Here are some facts that may surprise you:

Substance abuse, primarily alcohol and prescription drug abuse, among people over 60 is one of the fastest growing health problems in the US.

● People over 65 account for one third of of outpatient prescription medication use.

● As many as 17% of the elderly population abuse prescription drugs, including opiates and tranquilizers.

● Approximately 15% of men and 12% of women over the age of 60 are reported to abuse alcohol.

As the population of people over 60 continues to rise, we’ll likely see an even larger increase in substance abuse within this group. Unfortunately, this issue is slow to be addressed, both by family members and health care professionals.

Why is this? And how do we help our elderly family members overcome the problem? Why Is Elderly Addiction Not Addressed? One of the biggest issues is that it is simply not diagnosed. The elderly patient who goes to the doctor is even less likely than their younger counterparts to admit that they have a problem. This is likely due to the fact that this age group is more likely to have a negative view of addiction, and to be embarrassed to admit they have a problem. Medical professionals often miss the signs of addiction in elderly patients, partly because many of the signs and symptoms can be explained by other illness or age-related decline. For example, the elderly patient who presents with symptoms such as lack of coordination, foggy thinking, memory loss or slurred speech may be misdiagnosed. People, including doctors, may hear reports of slipping and falling, or hear complaints of forgetfulness or depression and not realize that these are also signs of substance abuse.

Family members may chalk these symptoms up to age. This is unfortunate, because substance abuse in the elderly has a much bigger impact on health and well-being, and drastically lowers quality of life. Misdiagnosis is one problem, but even more alarming is that substance abuse may simply be ignored by friends, family members and even providers. Why Isn’t Elderly Substance Abuse Taken More Seriously? How many people have a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle over 65 that drinks too much? Or, how many have an elderly family member who seems to take a lot of pills or other drugs? One pervasive belief when it comes to elderly drug or alcohol abuse is that it’s simply not as serious as it would be in a younger person.

There are many reasons people choose to look the other way rather than confront elderly addiction. Part of it may be that people are loathe to tell their elders how to live their lives. A popular sentiment is that the person has somehow “earned” the right to drink or use as much as they want. Some family members don’t want to embarrass their older family member. Some believe that the elderly person is just too set in their ways to change, or that it just doesn’t make a difference. The sentiment that they are so old that it doesn’t matter, and they should just be left to live their lives how they want in their last years is a popular one, too.

The problem is that these justifications are simply not true. Substance abuse is a major cause of health problems in the elderly that they wouldn’t normally have. Some issues that are caused or worsened due to substance abuse include:

● Depression and anxiety

● Cognitive deficits

● Cardiovascular disease

● Diabetes ● Lack of coordination/falls

● Kidney and liver disease

● Increased vulnerability to exploitation and abuse

● Increased financial distress, especially if they are on a fixed income

● Reduced ability to live independently

Alcoholism causes premature deaths every year, and substantially lowers quality of life. Not only that, but statistics show that when treated, the recovery rate for seniors is actually quite good. Bottom line: Substance abuse shortens the lifespan and decreases quality of life. Treatment works, and could save the life of an elderly family member.

There is no excuse to ignore elderly substance abuse. guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/are-there-specific-drug-addiction-treatments


Rose Lockinger is passionate member of the recovery community. A rebel who found her cause, she uses blogging and social media to raise the awareness about the disease of addiction. She has visited all over North and South America. Single mom to two beautiful children she has learned parenting is without a doubt the most rewarding job in the world. Currently the Outreach Director at Stodzy Internet Marketing. You can find me on LinkedIn, Facebook, & Instagram

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