Substance Abuse Among Seniors
Table of contents
- Substance Abuse in Elderly
- Causes of Addiction in Elderly
- Prescription Medication Leading to Addiction
- Dangers of Substance Use in Elderly Persons
- Challenges in Identifying Addiction in Elderly
- Symptoms Of Substance Use in Elderly Persons
- Aging in Addiction
- Substance Use Disorder Treatment for Seniors
Substance Abuse in Elderly
In its research, the National Institute of Health-funded study revealed that substance use disorder (SUD) increases susceptibility to Covid-19. The increased susceptibility to Covid-19 is a result of the compromised lungs and cardiovascular system in people with SUD.1
Older adults are not resistant to substance use disorder. Substance use in elderly persons is one of the nation’s fast-growing problems. This invisible pandemic has remained underestimated and underdiagnosed.2
The Struggle of Senior Living
Not so much attention is paid to alcohol and drug dependence among the elderly. It’s believed that seniors know better than to use prescription drugs or alcohol illicitly. The use of prescription medication has moved beyond just taking a pill to relieve pains, anxiety, or sleep well at night. Many seniors take way more than they should and have developed use disorders as a result. Substance use in the elderly has become more prevalent over the last decade.
While there is a reawakening in the need to better assess the possibilities of substance use in the elderly, it’s undoubtedly challenging to diagnose symptoms. Symptoms of substance use in older adults disguise as ailments associated with old age, such as depression, diabetes, and dementia. Hence, it’s tough to interpret except when closely observed. Drug abuse and substance use disorder occurs between the early-onset and late-onset groups in seniors.
The late-onset groups are people who get accustomed to prescription drugs and alcohol as they age. Prolonged use of these substances makes their body dependent on prescription drugs. Substance use disorder is possible with both groups, but relapse is more common with the baby boomers as stopping substance use is more difficult.
Causes of Addiction in Elderly
Most of the time, the initial intention for illicit use of substances is as a distraction. This distraction becomes increasingly difficult to resist until drug and alcohol addiction creep in. The aftermath of drug addiction and alcoholism in elderly persons worsens loneliness. The after-effects of drug and alcohol addiction don’t do much to attract companionship. Instead, it makes family and friends widen the gulf between them and the senior with substance use disorder.
Death of Loved Ones
Loss of loved ones can aid substance use or relapse in older adults. Seniors are not as expressive when dealing with sadness. The pain is mainly handled internally. Very often, alcohol consumption may triple in a bid to suppress grief. Substance use in the elderly is more likely to happen after the demise of a loved one who was a caregiver. Occasional drinking may snowball into the frequent intake of alcohol. Some seniors will have a bottle with them most of the time after the demise.
Mental and Physical Decline
Highly Addictive Prescription Drugs
Addiction in senior citizens and substance use is most prevalent in the use of prescription drugs. In the absence of supervision, many seniors tend to take more than the required dosage or even less of their prescription drugs. Continued misuse will cause the body to develop tolerance and dependence on these drugs, leading to addiction.
A Further Look at Addiction in the Elderly
Prescription Medication Leading to Addiction
Health conditions associated with aging will require prescribed treatments. Older adults tend to use more drugs because of chronic health conditions and ailments. This leaves them with a high risk of being addicted to these medications. Study shows that 37.1% of men and 36.0% of women aged between 57 and 85 use five prescription medications or more at the same time.3 This heavy use of prescription medication opens the door to substance use disorders.
In addition, mixing prescriptions and dietary supplements with non-prescription drugs is common in senior citizens and may lead to substance use. Misuse of these prescription drugs may include:
Opioids are very common depressants prescribed to relieve physical and emotional pain in older adults. Opioid prescription in older adults is reportedly up to 80% in patients with advanced cancer, 77% in heart disease patients, and 40% in the outpatient of 65 and older.4 More than 17.5 million older adults are estimated to be affected. The odds of inappropriate opioid use are greater in baby boomers. While growing up, there was widespread use of prescription drugs with little or no stigma. Substance use disorder (SUD) is projected to substantially increase among this age group as they become older.
Dangers of Substance Use in Elderly Persons
Metabolization of Drugs
Challenges in Identifying Addiction in Elderly
Problems Mimic Other Health Issues
The signs of addiction are not always there in senior citizens compared to younger adults. Care providers often confuse symptoms of substance use in older adults as natural ailments from aging.
Functional alcoholism is a significant contributor to alcohol addiction in that the alcohol symptoms are primarily suppressed, and almost everyday life continues. The senior with functional alcoholism may be difficult to convince of the existence of a problem and even refuse alcohol treatment. Alcohol poisoning is usually a popular result of this situation.
Not Seeking Professional Help
Hence, they see no need in seeking professional help. Also, senior citizens may see no need to seek professional help for fear of stigmatization and judgment. Reduced social interaction as they may be retired or home alone often makes it easy to hide substance use in older adults.
Symptoms Of Substance Use in Elderly Persons
Drug Withdrawal Signs
Alcohol use helps the body to stay relaxed and calm. Withdrawal symptoms will include super excitability and nervousness. Opioids are central nervous depressants that act via opioid receptors to relieve pain and release dopamine-producing euphoric emotions. Withdrawal symptoms will consist of stomach cramps, diarrhea, and agitation.
Physical Signs of Drug Withdrawal
Psychological Signs of Drug Withdrawal
Aging in Addiction
Substance Use Disorder Treatment for Seniors
There is a need for detoxification of the system to gradually expel alcohol, opioids, and sedative-hypnotics (tranquilizers). Detoxification is the process of expelling drugs or alcohol an individual has consumed from the system. This detoxification process is to be handled by medical experts to avoid complications. Supervised reduction of dosage, education, and cooperation from the elderly and family will increase the rate of success. This process is safer if carried out as inpatient detoxification.
This step is a stabilization process for the patient. The stabilization process involves both medical and psychological treatments. Doctors will prescribe treatment medications to reduce withdrawal symptoms and any other complications. Addiction treatment may include medications like acamprosate, naltrexone, buprenorphine in outpatient settings.
This process is psychological therapy. Therapy should be age-specific and non-confrontational. An empathetic approach is necessary for rebuilding the patient’s self-esteem and social support groups. Therapy provides the platform for listening to seniors with substance use disorder, emphasizing with them, and guiding them through the path of recovery. The common types of therapy for substance use disorder in seniors are:
While substance use disorder is widely unnoticed and even considered unlikely, many seniors have suffered its effects. Elders are less resistant to its dangers because of their not so strong immune systems. Due to other age-induced health challenges, substance use disorders have enjoyed a great deal of invisibility. For this reason, there is a need for improved awareness about its causes, symptoms, health risks, and treatment options. Family members, friends, and neighbors can certainly do more to help.