When we picture a drug or alcohol addict, most likely the image that jumps to mind is a young or middle-aged person. However, senior citizens—a population many don’t suspect of drug abuse—has a growing problem with addiction, especially with prescription drugs, and will need to seek help in drug rehab.
The journal Prevention Tactics found that 12 to 15% of seniors who need medical attention abuse prescription drugs, and Johns Hopkins Medical School reported that between 2001 and 2020, there will be a 190% increase in the number of people aged over 50 who abuse prescription drugs.
Seniors are at risk for developing a drug addiction because they can be more socially isolated or have undiagnosed depression or anxiety. They may be dealing with grief and bereavement as partners or friends pass away. Many seniors also begin taking opioid painkillers for chronic pain, postoperative pain, or general aches, and then become unintentionally dependent or addicted to the drugs. People who suffered with drug or alcohol addictions when they were younger are understandably more at risk for addictions as elders.
The most common drugs abused by seniors are opioids (prescription painkillers like Oxycontin and Percocet), alcohol, benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax), and stimulants (Adderall, Ritalin). Abuse of these drugs often begins when seniors aren’t getting the pain relief they need—so they start taking higher dosages, or taking pills more often than prescribed. Eventually, seniors become hooked, and family members and even health care professionals may not be aware of the abuse or addiction.
It can be hard to spot signs of drug abuse or addiction in seniors, because many symptoms of addiction mimic symptoms of aging in general. Physical signs include unstable balance, increased isolation, mood swings, delirium, insomnia, changes in appetite, or unclean appearance and bad hygiene. Seniors may also try to get more drugs by asking for early refills, saying that their prescriptions were lost or stolen, or going doctor shopping for several prescriptions at once. When confronted, seniors may be secretive about how many pills they’re taking and when.
While addiction is dangerous for anyone, elderly people with addiction face increased risks. Elderly people are susceptible to degenerative mental problems, and drugs can exacerbate the chance of delirium. As people age, their tolerance for alcohol decreases, while alcohol’s impact increases—and this is a big problem for seniors who are taking prescriptions that should not be mixed with alcohol. Elderly also people tend to have livers and kidneys that don’t work as efficiently anymore, so it’s harder for their bodies to deal with toxic substances. Addiction recovery programs should take these considerations into account when treating seniors.
If you or a loved one is affected by addiction, regardless of age, get the help you need now. Mental Health Series will connect you with an addiction treatment center that’s right for you and your individual needs. Luxury drug rehab is a chance for a new life filled with meaning and hope—take the first step toward recovery today.