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The Epidemic of Substance Abuse Among Older Adults

Most people assume that drug addiction is a problem that begins during teenage and young adult years. However, recent studied have revealed that more and more older adults are developing addiction, mostly to prescription medication.

There is a common misconception that older adults do not have problems with drugs in alcohol to the same extent as younger generations. Dr. Alex Kuerbis, in a 2014 Clinics in Geriatric Medicine article entitled Substance Abuse Among Older Adults, explains, “Historically, older adults have not demonstrated high rates of alcohol or other drug use compared with younger adults or presented in large numbers to substance abuse treatment programs. These facts have helped to perpetuate a misconception that older adults do not use or abuse mood-altering substances. Indeed, substantial evidence suggests that substance use among older adults has been under identified for decades.”  Older adults may have similar rates of substance abuse to younger generations, but are often less likely to receive help for addiction and alcoholism problems.

Statistics are beginning to show that the problem of substance abuse among older adults may be greater than previously thought. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s 2017 Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, “more than 1 million individuals aged 65 or older (‘older adults’) had an SUD in 2014, including 978,000 older adults with an alcohol use disorder and 161,000 with an illicit drug use disorder. Research suggests that substance use is an emerging public health issue among the nation’s older adults. Illicit drug use among adults aged 50 or older is projected to increase from 2.2 percent to 3.1 percent between 2001 and 2020.” The increased rates of substance abuse among older adults may be the result of over prescription of medications.

Opioids and benzodiazepines are a unique problem among older adults. As a person ages, their ability to process medications is diminished. Kuerbis explains, “older adults process benzodiazepines and opiates differently than younger adults; these medications should be prescribed with caution. Benzodiazepines with long half-lives are contraindicated for older adults as they can cause excessive sedation. Benzodiazepines are fat soluble drugs; as adults have less lean muscle mass and more body fat as they age, these drugs have a longer duration of action. Other risks associated with medication use in older adults occur because they may see multiple doctors, each of who may prescribe them medications that may interact with each other and/or with alcohol or other substances.”

Recovery is possible for everyone. If you or a loved one is suffering from addiction, you can make the decision to seek help now. Resilient House, located in beautiful Shreveport, Louisiana, offers a high-quality residential program that includes medically-supported detoxification, maintenance care, individual therapies, counseling (including family therapy), and plans to help clients build life skills that will help them after discharge. For information about Residential Treatment and other treatment options, please call today: (833) 242-6431