Alcohol and Drug Use Disorders in Older Adults

Alcohol and drug use in older adults is a growing issue. However, many are not receiving recovery services. Alcohol and drug abuse can cause a variety of problems for older adults, and it is important to understand how individuals can take the steps back to a healthy path.

Alcohol and Drug Use in Older Adults

Seventeen percent of people in the United States over 65 years old have abused prescription medications, according to the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. In Summit County alone, 48% of overdose victims were age 45 or older, with nearly all of that group between 45 and 64 years old.

Substance use disorders in older adults can be difficult to diagnose because they are masked by other existing conditions, such as dementia, depression, or even diabetes. There is a greater risk of harmful interactions caused by mixing medications with alcohol and other drugs.

For these reasons, it is important to speak up if you think an older adult has a substance use disorder. Knowing the causes of addiction in older adults can help you spot an issue and get someone on the road to recovery.

Causes of Alcohol and Drug Use in Older Adults

Older adults face unique challenges when it comes to alcohol and drug use disorders. While substance abuse can be dangerous at any age, older adults are at a greater risk for complications due to the natural physiological changes that happen as we age.

Substance use disorders can stem from a number of life events that trigger alcohol and drug use that is harmful to an older adult. These may include:

  • The death of a family member, spouse, or friend
  • Moving or being placed in a nursing home
  • Family issues or empty nesting
  • Retirement or loss of a job
  • Financial strains
  • Mental or physical health decline

These events and more can contribute to someone turning to substance abuse later in life. No matter the reason, substance use disorders can be harmful to older adults and should be addressed.

When to Seek Treatment

Addiction can be hard to identify in older adults. It is important to pay attention to the signs in your aging loved ones.

Someone might have a substance abuse disorder if they show the following signs:

  • Changes in eating habits
  • Failing to stay clean
  • Unexplained bruises
  • Changes in sleeping
  • Memory problems
  • Losing touch with people and loved ones
  • Lack of interest in usual activities
  • Wanting to be alone
  • Irritability, sadness, or depression

The first step towards addressing a substance use issue is to identify it. Once you have identified the issue, it is critical to seek an appropriate treatment plan.

Some treatment options, like VANTAGE Behavioral Health Solutions, specialize in helping older adults with alcohol and drug addictions. Clients receive treatment with people in their age group, so it is easier to connect and grow during their journey to recovery.

Choosing to Get Help – Client Stories

*Names have been changed to protect clients’ privacy.

Recover is not always a straight path. People face barriers that make the road to recovery one of ups and downs along the way. For example, 80-year-old Mary has been coming to VANTAGE Aging for 10 years. When the new director of Behavioral Health began to make changes, Mary was not happy.

Mary told staff members that she was going to talk to the director because the changes needed to stop.  One day, Mary stormed into the office and told the director what she thought needed to be done to keep things the same.

Mary proudly told the director she was a “teetotaler”. The director asked if that meant she was still drinking, and Mary said yes. The director and Mary talked for about an hour that day and when all was said and done, Mary agreed it was time for her to rethink her teetotaler status.

Mary agreed to a reassessment and became more involved in VANTAGE’s aftercare programs. She sees her individual counselor regularly and has completely stopped drinking. Mary is now battling cancer but still attends group therapy. She tells the staff and her fellow group participants that “you guys are my family” and even attends when her chemo treatments are hard.

Choosing to get help for a substance use disorder can be a hard decision. It takes courage to admit to an issue, and effort to enforce change. But the results are often positive, and many older adults who received treatment experience a better quality of life.

This is true for one individual who came into contact with VANTAGE Behavioral Health Solutions. Because of funding from the Summit County ADM Board, VANTAGE can provide outreach services to older adults in subsidized housing. This allows the agency to provide programs to older adults who are afraid to come out of their apartments because of the culture of alcohol, drug, and mental health issues of fellow residents. A peer support specialist talks to older adult residents about alcohol and drug usage.

Jan, a resident in the subsidized housing, came to the peer support specialist talks for two months. She sat in the back of the room and pretended to watch TV. Eventually, Jan approached the peer support specialist and admitted that she has been listening all along. Jan told the peer support specialist, “I am ready to get help.”

Could you or someone you know talk to someone about alcohol and drug use in older adults? VANTAGE Behavioral Health Solutions specializes in treatment for adults age 50 and older. All programs are no more than a few hours a week, so you do not have to uproot your life to start your road to recovery. Call today at 330-253-4597 or use the online referral form.

*The information in this article is intended solely to provide general information on matters of interest for the personal use of the reader, who accepts full responsibility for its use. This article should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional legal, medical, or other competent advisors.

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