The Impact of Substance Abuse in Older Adults

Substance problems can affect you at any age. They’re most common among young adults. However, significant numbers of senior adults are also affected. Older people often have age-related risks for substance abuse or misuse. These risks can make you or your loved one more likely to develop a diagnosable substance use disorder (SUD). They can also increase the odds that formal addiction treatment will be required for your recovery.

The Scope of Substance Abuse in Older Adults

Substance abuse is a term that can mean different things in different contexts. Often, it refers to such things as:

  • Drinking alcohol in excessive amounts
  • Misusing a prescription medication
  • Taking any amount of an illegal street drug

However, the same term can also refer to one of the two conditions that form the SUD definition. The other condition grouped under this definition is clinical substance addiction.

The peak time of risk for developing a SUD is early adulthood. After that, your chances of being affected start to drop. Nevertheless, they don’t disappear altogether. Adults aged 65 or older may also be affected. In fact, recent research shows that close to a million elderly Americans qualify for a SUD diagnosis.

The most common issue among older adults is a form of SUD called alcohol use disorder. Problems related to the use of prescription medications are also fairly common. That’s especially true for issues stemming from the use of opioid painkillers.

Risk Factors for Substance Abuse in the Elderly

Older adults often start misusing drugs or alcohol for different reasons than young adults. In addition, they’re also susceptible to certain age-related SUD risk factors. Common examples of the risk factors for substance abuse in the elderly include:

  • The onset of chronic pain
  • Mobility issues
  • The effects of various other kinds of physical disabilities
  • Chronic health issues
  • An overall decline in general health
  • Death of a spouse or other loved ones
  • Unintended interactions between various medications
  • The impact of extensive social isolation
  • Past or current mental health issues

Changes in housing status can also create a substance abuse risk. This happens when older adults use drugs or alcohol to cope with the stresses of downsizing or entering senior living. Researchers don’t fully understand how substance use affects older people’s brain function. New risk factors for this specific age group may be identified in the future.

Treating Substance Problems in Older Adults

It’s never too late to stop abusing drugs or alcohol. Like younger adults, seniors can benefit tremendously from well-designed treatment plans. Most methods used to help people in other age groups also work for seniors. Such strategies include both modern psychotherapy and medication. Research is still ongoing to find the best possible ways of helping seniors affected by SUDs.

Special care must be taken when treating substance problems in seniors. It can be challenging to distinguish the effects of SUDs from age-related health changes. For this reason, significant symptoms may sometimes go unnoticed or get misdiagnosed. A thorough, detailed evaluation will help eliminate these kinds of mistakes.

Get More Facts on Substance Abuse in Older Adults at The Right Step Recovery

Want more information on substance misuse and substance abuse in older adults? The experts at The Right Step Recovery are standing by to assist you. We can answer any question you may have about identifying and treating SUD in seniors.

The Right Step is also a trusted provider of effective drug and alcohol treatment. We feature customized recovery plans that consider age and all other factors. To learn more about our extensive services, call today at 17135283709. You can also chat with us online or complete our brief message form.

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