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Addiction knows no age limit

The Growing Trend of Substance Abuse in Adults Age 55 and Older

Middle aged manWhen asked to imagine the face of addiction, many of us would see in our minds a teenager or young adult who after experimenting with drugs or alcohol loses his ability to manage his life without relying on his drug of choice. While teen substance abuse is a serious risk in the United States, there is another growing population struggling with substance abuse that may not come to mind as readily. Addiction and substance abuse has steadily become a threat to individuals age 55 and older. Even though many of the factors leading this population to addiction differ from those of teens and young adults, the threat of addiction knows no age limit and can impact individuals of any age.

According to a study in the journal “Addiction” an estimated 2.8 million older adults in the United States are suffering from alcohol abuse alone, a number that is expected to reach 5.7 million by 2020.

Many of the reasons why older adults are becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol include:

  • The general aging of the baby boomer population, many of which grew up experimenting with drugs.
  • The desire to cope with the physical pains and discomfort of aging – a factor that often leads to pain killer addiction in particular.
  • Financial concerns, and the need to cope with the stresses of pending retirement. 30 percent of older adults point to financial worries as the reason they turn to alcohol or drugs.
  • Depression and anxiety, factors that lead to addiction in 63 percent of older adults.
  • Greater isolation and a smaller readily accessible support system of friends and family members able to intervene early to help their loved one seek help.
  • Forgetfulness, which can lead to a phenomenon called “accidental addiction,” in which an individual advertently becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol as a result of mistakenly taking too many prescribed pills or unintentionally mixing medications with alcohol.
  • Physical changes and a lesser ability to quickly metabolize alcohol. An adult who once could consume two glasses of wine without signs of inebriation may still want to consume the same amount out of habit, but their body is no longer as efficient in processing the alcohol, leading to health consequences.

While prescription pain medication and alcohol are the most prevalent substances overused by older adults, there is a growing trend of illicit drug use impacting adults age 50 to 64 as well. According to a 2013 report, the rate of illicit drug use increased from 2.7 percent in 2002 to 6.0 percent in 2013 among this age group. Baby boomers are more likely to have experimented with illicit drugs in their youth compared with adults over age 65. For many adults age 50 to 60 coping with the factors listed above, turning to illicit drugs offers a familiar form of escapism. Among older adults, the most commonly abused illicit drugs include marijuana, illegal opioids such as heroin, illegal stimulants such as cocaine, and hallucinogens such as LSD.

The good news is that while addiction knows no age limit, neither does recovery. Older adults are just as capable of successfully completing an alcohol or substance abuse recovery program as teens and young adults. In fact, being able to draw from a longer lifetime of positive experiences often enables older adults to recover more completely and with a lesser likelihood of relapse.

If you or a loved one is in need of professional support to recover from addiction, contact Horizon Health Services today at (716) 831-1800.