Presently, substance abuse among seniors can fall into two large groups. Firstly, the “hardy survivor”, or people who have been abusing substances for many year. Second, the “late onset”, or people who became substance abusers later in life. Regrettably, it most commonly occurs due to misuse of drugs prescribed for chronic health problems.
First and foremost, the reasons why the elderly turn to substance abuse varies. For example, They call one of the most common reasons, “the empty nest“ syndrome. The “empty nest“ refers to the void children leave once they are grown up and have moved out of their parents’ home. As a result, their absence causes a mix of new emotions. Moreover, they try to cope by implementing drugs into their daily life.
In addition, another important issue that surfaces is the issue of age. The fact that none of us is getting any younger scares them. You are no longer in your thirties, the forties, and are coming to realize fifty is a different season. Consequently, it requires a new game plan and a new set of rules. Coping with, and eventually accepting the new reality is a tough pill to swallow. One’s body is changing, and illness and pain become more common between the ages of 55 and 65.
Other reasons why elderly people choose addiction:
- Loss of a partner
- Friends are growing apart
- Loss of financial security
- Life in a nursing home
In any case, the most common vehicle of substance abuse among seniors are alcohol and prescribed medications. In fact, people over the age of 65 use almost 30% of all prescribed drugs in the US. For example, the most common prescription drugs they abuse are sedatives, hypnotics, dietary supplements, and benzodiazepines. Seniors who use those drugs and mix them with alcohol are more likely to visit the hospital due to substance interaction. Another important issue is that they tend to share their medications with friends.
In the same way, alcohol are also a commonly abused substance amongst the elderly. It’s important to note that alcohol can interact with many prescribed drugs and cause serious adverse effects. Furthermore, seniors are more sensitive to the effects of alcohol. Therefore, they show lower tolerance to this substance. Also, older men are more likely to develop alcohol addiction than women.
Paradoxically, substance abuse of illicit drugs such as heroin among seniors is very rare. It is usually limited to people who have had addiction issues in their youth.
No doubt, along with common dangers of substance abuse, seniors are more vulnerable to the side effects of drugs. Of course, as one ages, the body cannot absorb and metabolize certain drugs so well. Consequently, as these changes occur, it becomes more difficult for one’s body to process medications. Additionally, drug interaction can make it worse and cause serious health issues. Furthermore, alcohol or drug-related injuries are more common amongst seniors. However, more often than not they refuse to ask for help due to shame or pride.
Some of the most common substance abuse signs amongst seniors are:
- Loss of appetite
- Sleeping pattern problems
- Disheveled appearance
- Weight loss
- Memory issues
- Increase of appetite
- Injuries and bruises
- Lack of hygiene
- Distancing from friends and family
- Chronic pain
- Lack of motivation for everyday activities
The first challenge in rehab is to recognize the problem, and not mistake it as dementia or depression.
Usually, the best treatment solutions along with inpatient or outpatient rehab facilities are support groups and counseling. That way, the patient can get peer support and professional help. It is important that when you talk with a senior patient, you should be comforting. Additionally, you should use easy to understand language.
In conclusion, in some cases, substance abuse in the elderly is overlooked and neglected due to their age. Regrettably, ageism is a serious issue that should be remedied. Ultimately, people of all ages, backgrounds, and ethnicity deserve equal treatment.
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