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Although the use of illegal drugs tends to reduce in young adulthood, statistics from 2018 show that approximately 1 million persons 65 and older have a substance use disorder (SUD). Alcohol and prescription drug addiction among the elderly (those over the age of 60) is one of the most rapidly rising health issues in the United States. And according to recent studies, the number has been steadily rising.

Aging might potentially contribute to social and physical changes that may enhance sensitivity to drug usage. Little is known about the effects of drugs and alcohol on the aging brain. However, older persons often metabolize narcotics more slowly, and their brains might be more susceptible to drugs. While Alcohol and misuse of prescribed drugs are major inducers of addiction in the elderly, there are other very important factors to examine. Stay tuned to this piece to learn more!

Causes of Addiction in the Elderly

A variety of factors can play a role in someone’s decision to resort to drug misuse later in life. Whether it’s a medical condition or a life-altering event, emotional stress can be very taxing on the body and mind. These occurrences may lead to substance-abusive behavior, which may progress to a full-blown addiction if left unchecked.

The following are examples of potential triggers or causes of drug or alcohol addiction in the elderly:

  1. Prescription Drug Abuse Mistakes

The majority of older persons who get addicted to prescription drugs do so by mistake. They take more medication than people of other ages do. As reported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 50 percent of persons between the ages of 57 and 85 use more than five drugs or supplements every day. This raises the likelihood of making errors and abusing drugs.

Growing older also has the additional effect of decreasing your body’s capacity to absorb and filter medications. This implies that an older adult may get addicted to or have negative effects from a prescription medicine even if they take a lesser dosage than a younger adult does.

  1. Abuse and Neglect

There are many different types of elder abuse, including physical abuse, sexual exploitation, financial exploitation, and neglect on the part of an authorized caregiver. People who live in abusive environments may turn to substances to cope, and those who are neglected may turn to medication misuse and eventually dependency.

  1. Life Changes and New Situations

Retirement, bereavement, loss of mobility, increased isolation and feelings of loneliness, or the need for long-term care are all factors that might contribute to the urge to use alcohol or other coping techniques. Aside from that, the changes could result in mental health issues that could eventually lead to substance use disorder.

  1. Difficulties with Mental Health

Stressors and conditions associated with aging can be associated with substance abuse as well. As previously said, the quick tempo of life changes may often result in sadness and anxiety, and people who are dealing with these or other mental health issues are more likely to develop drug use disorders than those who are not. However, practically any mental or cognitive health condition may be comorbid with or even precipitate, the use of illicit drugs.

  1. Chronic Pain or Illness

Synthetic opioids, such as oxycodone (Percocet and OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), codeine, morphine, and fentanyl, are often recommended to treat severe or chronic pain in patients. With an estimated 65 percent of older persons suffering from pain, and 30 percent experiencing chronic pain, many may be given opioids, which are extremely addictive medications. 

While the majority of opioid abusers obtain prescriptions from their doctors, repeated requests may prompt their doctors to reduce doses or seek non-opioid alternatives for pain treatment to meet their needs. The result has been an increase in the prevalence of opioid diversion, sometimes known as “dealing,” by those who have access to prescription medications through other means.

  1. Legal Accessibility of Alcohol and Ideology Amongst the Elderly

According to the National Council on Aging, alcohol is the most often abused substance among older people. Legal access to alcohol will probably have a large influence since it is available at supermarkets and liquor stores. Furthermore, since alcohol usage is sometimes difficult to detect, many people refer to it as a “hidden scourge”. Another issue is that the markers of alcohol intake are quite similar to the signs of aging, making it difficult to tell the difference.

To relieve their fears and pass the time, some individuals turn to alcohol or narcotics. Furthermore, the baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) came of age at a period of tremendous shifts in views about alcohol, marijuana, and other narcotics. Some of them remained steadfast in their beliefs as they got older.

  1. Medical Marijuana Prescriptions

According to a recent poll in the United States, more than a quarter of 65 and older marijuana users had the substance prescribed by a doctor in the preceding year. According to research, medical marijuana may help with chronic pain, malnutrition, depression, and cancer treatment side effects.

The FDA has not approved marijuana as a medicine, which is an important point to remember. The potential benefits and risks of medical marijuana must therefore be carefully considered, particularly for persons with pre-existing health concerns or who use prescription medicines. Many prescription drugs may interact with marijuana, exacerbating pre-existing health problems and physiological changes in the elderly.

Getting Help for Addiction in the Elderly

Addictions to different drugs are forming at an alarming rate among those 65 years of age and beyond, and this is something that should not be disregarded by medical experts, caregivers, and family members. Having the knowledge that a loved one may be suffering from addiction may be devastating. However, admitting that there is a problem might be the first step in assisting them in overcoming it.

You should speak with a member of the Covenant Hills Treatment team immediately by calling 844-268-8412 if you or someone you know is battling addiction later in life and requires assistance locating a treatment program.