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addiction in the elderly

Fighting Addiction in the Elderly

Table of Contents

It’s a common misconception that seniors don’t struggle with substance abuse, but this isn’t always the case. According to experts, a lack of discussion on the subject has resulted in both the home and the doctor’s office, where patients are less likely to disclose problems and clinicians are less likely to inquire about them.


Addiction in the Elderly

As of 2012, there were 43.1 million people over the age of 65 in the United States, and this number is expected to rise to 83.7 million by 2050. Baby boomers – those born between 1946 and 1964 – make up a large portion of the elderly population in this country. They were raised in a time of free love and drug experimentation. Addiction and illicit drug and alcohol abuse may be passed down from generation to generation.

Drinking alcohol is a common problem among the elderly. Around 3 million seniors over the age of 65 suffer from alcoholism, according to Psych Central, and this number is expected to rise to 6 million by 2020.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, nearly 1 million adults 65 and older (2 percent of all senior citizens) reported having a substance use disorder in the previous year.

For seniors, alcohol and prescription painkillers are the most frequently misused substances. One more thing we learned about those over 65 years old from the survey is:

  • In the previous month, 10.7% of seniors said they had binge drunk.
  • More than a quarter of the over-65 population reported heavy drinking in the past month.
  • According to the AARP, 1.6% of seniors suffer from some form of alcohol dependence or abuse.
  • In the last year, 1.3% of seniors admitted to abusing opioids.
  • 0.5 percent of seniors admitted to using tranquilizers in the previous year.
  • Benzodiazepines were reported to be misused by just 0.4% of seniors in the past year.
  • Only 0.2% of senior citizens have admitted to abusing sedatives in the past year.


Treatment for Addiction in the Elderly

Medical Detox

When substances such as drugs or alcohol are removed from a person’s system, they may experience both cravings for the substance and potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Depending on the individual’s situation, medication may be used in an inpatient or outpatient medical detoxification setting to complete this process.

Older adults undergoing medical detoxification must be aware of all medications they are taking to treat other health issues to avoid potentially harmful interactions with the medications they are taking during medical detox. It is necessary to evaluate medical conditions and mental health issues before prescribing medications for detoxification, and some medications that are appropriate for other demographics may not be appropriate for this age group. While benzodiazepines are commonly used to stabilize individuals during medical detox from psychoactive prescription drugs, long-acting or high-dose formulations of these drugs may accumulate in the body of an older person, causing long-term cognitive or toxic effects in the long run.


Residential or Outpatient Treatment?

Whether in a residential or outpatient treatment model, 12-Step and mutual support groups, educational opportunities, life-skills training workshops, and holistic treatment methods are all common. When it comes to substance abuse treatment, outpatient models allow individuals to attend sessions or meetings during the day and return home at night, whereas residential treatment requires individuals to reside at a specialized substance abuse treatment facility and receive round-the-clock care and supervision while they are there.

Because the circumstances of a senior citizen’s life may differ from those of a younger person, treatment components may need to be tailored to the needs of the senior citizen. It is not uncommon for clients who appear to be similar to be divided into smaller groups for various types of treatment and support groups, depending on their appearance.

When a comorbid mental illness is present, integrated treatment models that bring together medical and mental health professionals to treat both disorders at the same time may be beneficial to the patient. Because of the possibility of multiple medical conditions and medications in an elderly patient, it is even more critical that all healthcare providers work together when treating this patient population.

addiction in the elderly


When it comes down to fighting misuse of prescriptions, there are some methods of fighting it that are effective. Drug misuse such as opioid addiction in the elderly can be treated by:


Providing a Platform for Discussion

It’s a common misconception that seniors don’t struggle with substance abuse, but this isn’t always the case. According to experts, a lack of discussion on the subject has resulted in both the home and the doctor’s office, where patients are less likely to disclose problems and clinicians are less likely to inquire about them.


Finding Support Groups for the Elderly

Addiction treatment programs for the elderly are few and far between, but some peer support groups cater specifically to the needs of the elderly. Sharing concerns and learning from generational peers may be easier in these settings.


Ensuring that Any Additional Medical Issues are Dealt With

Chronic pain is frequently one of several co-morbidities that plague the elderly. As a result, discontinuing a pain reliever may be difficult. Experts, on the other hand, advise taking the smallest possible dose of opioids for the shortest possible time, as well as considering non-drug alternatives to chronic pain treatment, such as exercise, yoga, and tai chi. Dr. Bierman believes that starting treatment with non-drug methods is advantageous.


Medication Management

Dr. Gerlach spends a lot of time with her elderly patients going over their medications and determining what they no longer need and could be taken off of – or “de-prescribed,” as she calls them. To determine if elderly patients can safely stop taking their medications, it is important to periodically reevaluate the medications they are taking.


Addiction Treatment Options for the Elderly in Southern California

With these rising statistics of drug addiction in the elderly, it has become more necessary to fight drug addiction in the elderly population. An addiction intervention is essential for older adults who may not recognize the need for treatment. It is possible to find a treatment facility for the elderly after a successful intervention, and there are many options available. Medical detox, residential treatment, and/or outpatient treatment may all be available as part of these programs. 

To learn more about treatment options for addiction in southern California, contact The Right Time Recovery at 800-630-1218