Treating Substance Abuse in the Elderly

Jun 17, 2016

Treating Substance Abuse in the Elderly

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Although it’s widespread, substance abuse and alcoholism in senior citizens can go overlooked. Perhaps due to a generational gap or the difficulty of detecting an issue in the presence of other medical conditions, the use of drugs and alcohol is by no means a problem distinct to younger folks.

Compounding with the issue of trying to isolate elderly drug abuse or alcoholism, many members of older generations disapprove of and shame those who may have an addiction. This can often discourage people from speaking up or reaching out for fear of ridicule. 

The same can be said for an elderly sufferer of addiction’s relatives – Ageism can contribute heavily to the way these matters are dealt with. It’s somewhat of an unspoken yet widely understood assumption that senior drug and alcohol abuse is in less need of treatment. This is far from the truth. 

Growing Older With an Addiction

With growing older come distinct changes in an individual’s biomedical interaction with alcohol and other substances. Substance abuse is known to accelerate the normal physiological decline associated with old age. This can increase the risk of injury, illness, and socioeconomic status – things that are already issues for the elderly population.

If you or an elderly loved one has a substance abuse disorder or is struggling with alcoholism, it’s not too late to get help. Schedule an appointment with your physician or doctor immediately so they can ensure the road to recovery is available.

Starting on the Road to Recovery

Doctors will first take a complete medical history and ask about how much someone has been drinking or abusing a particular substance. They will want to know the quantity of the intake, and how much time has elapsed since the last instance of use. Patients must disclose as much information as possible in order to receive the proper treatment.

Next, a physical exam will identify any complicating medical conditions such as heart diseases, gastrointestinal bleeding, infections, liver diseases, or nervous system impairment and pancreatitis. A blood test may also be ordered to measure one’s complete blood count, electrolyte levels, and liver function.

Rehabilitation Options

For help and support, your doctor is likely to recommend outpatient rehabilitation for mild to moderately severe cases of elderly substance abuse. This type of treatment is most effective with a supportive network of friends and family. This type of rehabilitation is a safe choice and less expensive than inpatient detoxification in a hospital or other facility.

Severe cases may be better treated by inpatient rehabilitative treatments, especially if the patient does not have a reliable network of social support or a history of:

Rehabilitation centers’ main goals are to reduce the immediate symptoms of withdrawal, prevent further complications, and initiate long-term therapies for recovery. Along with the services found through rehabilitation, patients may be prescribed certain medications to help manage the shakiness, anxiety, and confusion associated with withdrawal. These drugs include:

  • Valium
  • Librium
  • Ativan
  • Serax
  • Tegretol (recommended due to its low potential for abuse) 

Reaching Out to those in Need

If you or an elderly loved one is suffering from mild drug or alcohol abuse, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment – severe cases should be treated as medical emergencies since seizures can set in as little as two hours after the last drink.

Regardless of the severity, drug and alcohol abuse in senior citizens is a critical risk to the health of the elderly population and can be prevented one person at a time through awareness and the proper medical attention.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How prevalent is addiction in the elderly community?

Findings from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism show that 20-30 percent of people ages 75 to 85 have experienced drinking problems and, according to the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, 3.6 percent of adults aged 60 to 64 report using an illicit drug.

If you are concerned that your loved one has an addiction problem consider these drug treatment programs for seniors.

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How prevalent is medication abuse in the senior 65+ community?

Persons aged 65 years and older comprise only 13 percent of the population, yet account for more than one-third of total outpatient spending on prescription medications in the United States. Older patients are more likely to be prescribed long-term and multiple prescriptions, and some experience cognitive decline, which could lead to improper use of medications. Alternatively, those on a fixed income may abuse another person's remaining medication to save money. 

Prescription drug abuse in the elderly is more common than you think. If you believe your loved one is addicted to prescription drugs seek help immediately.

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