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Addiction, also known as substance use disorder (SUD), is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as a chronic, relapsing brain disorder. It is characterized by compulsively engaging in rewarding stimuli (e.g., abusing drugs and/ or alcohol) without regard for consequence. Senior citizens are at increased risk of developing substance use disorder as this population is more susceptible to the deteriorating effects that occur from substances of abuse. The metabolism slows down 5% every decade after 40. Therefore, individuals over 65 have a decreased ability to metabolize drugs or alcohol along with an increased brain sensitivity to them. Members of the geriatric population face unique challenges, particularly those striving to overcome addiction, that require specialized strategies to help them achieve recovery. The University at Buffalo identifies some of these challenges as follows:

  • Addiction can be difficult to detect in the elderly because common symptoms of substance abuse (e.g., increasing fatigue, diminished cognitive capacities, balance problems, etc.) can be mistaken for dementia, depression, or other problems common to older adults.
  • It is not uncommon for people over the age of 60 to take daily medications for health conditions, which can mask the signs of addiction.
  • Health care professionals do not routinely ask about and screen for substance use problems in older adults.
  • Many older adults become socially isolated. Retired seniors often face difficultly filling their free time, finding a sense of purpose, keeping up social ties, etc. This is especially true for those who live alone, far away from family, and whose friends pass away as they age.

Treating Substance Use Disorder in Older Adults offers social support suggestions and other wellness strategies for seniors struggling with addiction, some of which include:

  • Older adults must increase their health literacy to maintain recovery and prevent relapse.
  • Enlisting a comprehensive wellness team can provide coordinated care to ensure proper medication management.
  • It is important to remain socially active. Studies show that humans are happier when they have a strong social network that includes positive, long-term relationships. Research indicates that older adults in long-term recovery from substance misuse have better outcomes when their social supports promote abstinence.

Despite the significant lack of studies investigating substance abuse and addiction among older adults, the National Institute on Drug Abuse asserts that “substance abuse among the elderly (adults over the age of 60), particularly of alcohol and prescription drugs, is one of the fastest-growing health problems in the United States.” Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, found that nearly 1 million adults aged 65 years, or older or 2% of all seniors, reported a substance use disorder during the past year. Still, addiction in seniors is often underestimated and under-diagnosed, which not only poses as a significant barrier to treatment for those in need, but also exacerbates this hidden epidemic.

For Information and Support 

If you are concerned for yourself or a loved one regarding substance abuse and/ or addiction, we recommend reaching out for help as soon as possible. If left untreated, substance abuse can result in long lasting and potentially life-threatening consequences. Keep in mind: you are not alone! There is an entire network of professionals that are available to help and support you and your loved one throughout the recovery process. The earlier you seek support, the sooner your loved one can return to a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life.

Please do not hesitate to reach out with any questions regarding our specific program at Haven House Addiction Treatment and/ or general substance abuse and/ or addiction treatment related information. Our highly trained staff is readily available to discuss how we might best be able to help you and your loved one. We can be reached by phone at 424-258-6792. You are also welcomed to contact anytime us via email at admissions@hhtxc.com.