Substance use disorders can occur at any age – even when you are older. Changes such as losing a spouse, retiring from a job, getting a new health diagnosis, or changing living arrangements can drive an older person to overuse substances as a means to cope. It is common for an older adult to feel lonely, depressed, or anxious. These factors can also increase their risk of abusing substances. If an older adult has a history of substance abuse, they may also be at a higher risk for relapse as they age.
According to the National Institutes of Health, nearly one million older adults over the age of 65 are living with a substance use disorder. Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance among older adults, but opioids and prescription drug medications are also abused. As a person ages, their metabolism slows down, which can make them more sensitive to alcohol or medication. This means that they can become intoxicated faster than someone who is younger, and medication can have a stronger effect.
While it may be difficult for older individuals to admit that they have a problem so they can seek the help they need, there are ways that this can be approached so that they may be more willing to overcome their addictions and move forward in their life. It is never too late to seek help for a substance use disorder. There are many options available to meet the needs of any individual, no matter what stage of life they may be in.
Recognizing Substance Use Disorders in Older Adults
The signs of a substance use disorder in an older adult can often be mistaken for aging. This can cause the signs to go unnoticed by those around the person. Not only are there physical indicators that a person is abusing alcohol or drugs, but there are psychological ones as well.
Some signs to be aware include:
- Changes in a person’s appearance
- Lack of personal hygiene, such as neglecting bathing, showering, or washing their clothes
- Changes in mood or behavior
- Confusion or memory loss
- Loss of interest in things they once enjoyed, such as hobbies or spending time with family and friends
- Speech that is slurred or slower than normal
- Isolation from family or friends
- Unexplained bruises or injuries due to falls that happen while intoxicated or under the influence of a substance
- Sleep difficulties
- Legal or financial problems
- Need for more medication beyond what was prescribed
Since some older adults may live alone and not be surrounded by family members, they may drink at home where no one notices and where substance abuse won’t impact their work or other responsibilities. This can cause the problem to go undetected.
How Substance Use Disorders are Treated in Older Adults
Once you recognize that an older loved one has a substance use disorder, there are several things to do to get them the help they need. You may worry that taking away alcohol or other substances may anger them or affect their quality of life, but their anger will not last forever, and getting them the help they need will much improve their quality of life.
Treating substance use disorders in older adults is often done by using cognitive behavioral therapy as well as by addressing any underlying mental health issues. If an aging adult has any co-occurring disorders, like anxiety or depression, they will need to be treated as well. Other types of counseling, such as group or family therapy, can also be effective.
Older adults may find attending 12-step meetings or support groups beneficial. These types of groups allow older adults to connect with others who may be experiencing similar problems, so they understand that they are not alone in their struggles.
Need a Pennsylvania Recovery Center?
If you or an older loved one is struggling with an addiction, contact Mountain Laurel Recovery Center today. We can help you find options to put you on the path to a lasting recovery. To find out more about the programs and services available in our Pennsylvania recovery center, contact us online for a confidential consultation.