It doesn’t discriminate: Older Adults are Struggling with Substance Abuse

Anyone at any age can have a drinking problem. At i360, we say it all the time – addiction does not discriminate. Not based on gender, on finances, on profession…and certainly not on age. In fact, families, friends, and healthcare workers often overlook concerns about older people drinking. We mistake alcohol abuse in older adults for other conditions related to aging – like a problem with balance. Furthermore, how the body handles alcohol changes with age. Your grandpa may have the same drinking habits, but his body has changed, as has the way he metabolizes the liquor.

It’s not just the liquor. It’s often the prescription medications that are being abused as well. Doctors may prescribe Ambien to help older adults sleep or anti-anxiety medications like Klonopin to help them cope with the loss of a loved one. When you couple that with cocktails, the equation can result in addiction. It can really be that innocent. And they don’t see it coming.

More older adults are struggling with substance abuse – it’s plain as day. We often see that they go through a major life event, like the death of their spouse or a close friend, loss of purpose or career, or even failing health, and that causes them to turn to substances to cope. Even with retirement, it can lead to drinking problems because of loneliness, boredom, and maybe even the onset of depression. We are finding that older adults often don’t posess the coping skills required to calm their anxiety through these major life events, so they turn to alcohol and other drugs.

The good news is that older adults are just as treatable – they aren’t hopeless! There is never a better time to get treatment than now. But we need to open our eyes to what is happening. This article states that around “2.8 million older adults in the United States meet the criteria for alcohol abuse, and this number is expected to reach 5.7 million by 2020.”  And while alcohol is generally the substance abused, the rate of illicit drug use among adults ages 50 to 64 increased from 2.7% in 2002 to 6% in 2013.  At i360, we believe that our duty to educate goes beyond just those that we see in treatment within our walls. These numbers are not headed in the right direction. But treatment works, and there is hope, and it just takes reaching out to begin the journey to a better, healthier “you”.  That’s what we do at i360, we work with people as young as 18 years old, and all the way up through ages 50, 60, 70, and 80 plus! We walk alongside our clients to help them put one foot in front of the other to overcome anxiety, addiction, and depression. There is hope and we can help you find it.

Written by Lauren Barnett, October 2014

Resource: The New York Times Article