Substance Abuse and Seniors – Opioid Abuse Among the Elderly

Seniors and Opioids

Substance abuse is one of the fastest-growing problems in the United States right now. Coping with this problem in such a vast form is not something scientists and everyday people could have ever thought possible.

Today, one out of every eight people with a substance abuse problem is over the age of 50, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. The council predicts the number of people over the age of 50 in need of help for a drug or alcohol problem will double by the year 2020. One of the biggest reasons behind this increase in senior substance abuse is that 78 million “baby boomers” are heading into retirement age.

Recognizing Physical Dependence and Addiction Symptoms in Seniors

Every person is different, but substance abuse may cause some common signs and symptoms in people over the age of 50, including:

  • Sleep problems
  • Fatigue
  • Memory loss
  • Mood swings
  • Chronic health problems
  • Frequent accidents or falls
  • Unsteady gait
  • Unexplained bruises and injuries
  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • A decrease in social activity
  • Neglect of appearance or hygiene
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Slurred speech
  • Defensiveness
  • Increased stress

The signs and symptoms of substance abuse among seniors may appear similar to problems or diseases normally associated with aging. Because it is so easy to confuse signs of substance abuse with aging, many cases of drug or alcohol abuse in seniors go unnoticed and untreated.

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Opioids for Pain Management

The opioid crisis has affected every citizen in this country, directly or indirectly. As much as many people tend to deny, in certain circumstances, no one is immune to suffering from opioid use disorder. While the news often focus on how opioid addiction has affected young adults, older Americans are also victims of this tragic crisis. In 2017 the HHS Office of Inspector General reported that over 22,000 Medicare patients showed signs of doctor shopping for additional prescriptions for opioid drugs.

Seniors are vulnerable to opioid abuse due to degenerative conditions common to aging. Conditions that cause pain and simple chores become difficult to complete. Older folks receive opioids for several reasons. The most common medical conditions being:

    • Shoulder surgeries
    • Hip and knee replacements
    • Injuries and chronic pain

According to the Center for Diseases Control and Prevention, older adults ages 65 and up, undergo nearly 16 million surgeries each year. While opioids can be effective when taken properly and for a short period of time, the risk of physical dependence and addiction becomes greater as time goes on.

There are also life negative changing events that can contribute to substance abuse issues. Other non-medical causes of senior addiction include:

  • Death of a partner
  • Loss of Income
  • Living Relocation including nursing homes
  • A decline in physical and mental health
  • Loneliness
  • Fear of dying
  • Family conflicts
  • Sleeplessness

It is important to understand that older individuals have a decreased ability to metabolize drugs and alcohol, which can cause them much more risk and harm.

Senior citizens are a higher risk group because they are most likely to receive prescription medications for the long-term. Also, the elderly often suffer from declining cognitive function, which further places them at higher risk for accidental overdose.

Seniors abuse drugs and alcohol for the same reasons as people of any age. Someone might take illicit drugs or misuse prescription drugs for recreational purposes or as a way to cope with grief, anxiety, depression, and pain. Certain risk factors increase the likelihood that a senior will abuse drugs or alcohol, such as living alone, a personal or family history of substance abuse or mental health issues, chronic pain, and even boredom. A handful of seniors feel they “deserve some fun” after leading long and often stressful lives. Many are resistant to treatment due to shame, fearing they are too old for detoxification or that they will live in pain.

Some seniors may have used alcohol and drugs all their lives without major issues. The problem is, being older, lowers our tolerance to the effects of alcohol and drugs, which makes people more susceptible to harm. Fortunately, there are medical programs that specialize and understand the special needs older folk might have and more importantly, it is never too late to get help.

Senior Substance Abuse and Addiction Treatment Program

AMHSA reports show that in 2014, over one million individuals aged 65 or older suffered from some kind of substance use disorder. Older people may be reluctant to enter traditional forms of drug rehabilitation or even leave the familiarity of their surroundings. Although available, more and accessible specialized medical treatment programs for seniors, are desperately needed.

The best treatment programs should contain a collaborative and treatment approach, including specialists, to assess possible medical conditions, co-occurring emotional disorders, and potential nutritional health deficits.

 

Due to the intensive physical and emotional needs of aging adults, detoxification should start at a full-service hospital where multiple health care resources are available. Many seniors have complicated health histories. For this reason, the Waismann Method® offers various protocols of medical detox to fit each patient’s unique health needs.

 

Waismann Method® is an integrated program delivered by a highly trained and compassionate team. A staff consisting of board-certified physicians, nurse practitioners, nutritionists, licensed therapists, and other trained clinicians, some of whom may specialize in geriatric conditions.  

If you or someone you know is over the age of 50 and has a substance abuse problem, contact the Waismann Method ® Rapid Opiate Detox Center location. Our trained professionals can help you or a loved one navigate safely through the complicated process by easing the withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings caused by addiction and dependence.