Substance abuse among older adults is a significant issue that can have severe consequences for the health and well-being of older adults and those around them. Despite this, drug abuse rates among older adults are increasing faster than any other age group. A 2018 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration survey found that approximately one million seniors above 65 (or 2% of the senior population) had a substance use disorder in the past year. Some 3% use marijuana, and 1 in 10 engage in binge drinking.
The pandemic didn't help either, as lockdowns disrupted routines, isolation, and fear spread. 2020 reports from the National Center for Health Statistics showed a shocking 53% increase in opioid-related deaths among the baby boomers over the previous year. Alcohol-related deaths, which had already been rising for a decade in this age group, rose by 18%.
All these numbers lead us to the question, why are more older adults in the United States abusing drugs than ever before? This article will explore potential causes of this trend, including loneliness, boredom, mental health problems, and lack of access to appropriate healthcare.
One of the key factors behind increasing substance abuse among older adults is the use of prescription medications. Older adults may face an increased risk of chronic pain, heart disease, and other health conditions as they age.
As part of quality health care, prescription medications can help relieve symptoms and improve the quality of life. However, if the medication is misused, it could lead to abuse. Sadly, many senior citizens abuse prescription medications for reasons like:
Social isolation, or the lack of social connections and relationships, can be a risk factor for substance abuse in adults of all ages. That's because it can lead to negative emotions such as loneliness, boredom, and stress.
Older adults may be more vulnerable to social isolation due to retirement, losing a spouse or other loved ones, or limited mobility. They may turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with these negative emotions. Social isolation can also increase the risk of mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, which can increase the risk of substance abuse.
Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and cognitive impairments can increase the risk of substance abuse in older adults. These mental health issues may be due to various factors, including the natural aging process, physical health problems, social isolation, or other stressors.
Older adults with mental health issues may turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with their emotions or self-medicate for their mental health problems. Substance abuse can temporarily relieve negative emotions but can also lead to addiction and other negative consequences. Substance abuse can also exacerbate mental health problems and create a cycle of substance abuse and mental health issues.
Substance abuse among older adults can seriously impact physical and mental health and the overall quality of life. Some of the potential impacts of drug abuse among older adults include:
Age-related changes can make it difficult for caregivers and healthcare providers to recognize and diagnose substance abuse in older adults. These age-related changes include changes in metabolism, which can affect how quickly and effectively a person's body processes drugs. In addition, older adults may be less likely to report symptoms of substance abuse, as they may feel embarrassed or ashamed to admit that they are having a problem with drugs or alcohol.
These age-related changes can make it difficult for healthcare providers to identify addiction in an older adult accurately. For this reason, it is essential for caregivers and healthcare providers to be aware of the risk factors and warning signs of substance abuse among older adults.
Some common signs that may indicate an older adult is abusing drugs or alcohol include:
Addiction treatment in older adults should be tailored to the individual's age and health status. Treatment options include medication-assisted treatment, behavioral health therapies, counseling, and support groups. In some cases, long-term residential care may be necessary to ensure the individual gets the treatment they need to successfully manage addiction and live a healthy life.
It is also important to remember that addiction in older adults can be caused by underlying medical or mental health conditions. Therefore, it is essential to address any underlying issues to ensure that the individual receives comprehensive care and support.