Alcohol Addiction and Substance Abuse Among the Elderly

Alcohol Addiction and Substance Abuse Among the Elderly

Our Aging Generation and Substance and Alcohol Use

When we think about drug, substance, or alcohol abuse for the most part we think about young teens and young adults. We completely forget that anyone of any age can find themselves caught up in a whirl-wind of drug or alcohol abuse.

The numbers are continuing to grow among the older adults that misuse alcohol, prescription drugs and other substances. According to a survey done by SAMHSA on Drug Use and Health estimates that by the year 2020 there may be around 4.4 million older adults in need of substance abuse treatment. This is estimated to be more than double the numbers from 2000 and 2001. This is an alarming estimated rate.

In 2002-2003, a survey showed that there were approximately 12.2 percent of adults that were 50 years of age and over that reported binge drinking and 3.2 percent reported drinking alcohol heavily in the month prior to the survey. The survey estimated that 45.1 percent of the adults that were 50 years and older drank alcohol in that past month. The figure of 45.1 percent was equal to 36.0 million people. In the same time-frame, those aged 65 and older reported binge drinking and 1.8 percent reported heavy alcohol use.

When it came to illicit drug abuse, 1.8 percent of the adults that were 50 years of age and older which is about 1.4 million people reported illicit drug use. The most common drug of abuse was marijuana and prescription drugs were second. The prescription drugs were used for non-medical reasons. Cocaine was third in line.

Those that are 65 years old and above make up 13% of the population, and of all the prescribed medications and 1/3 of the prescriptions are for the elderly in the U.S. Many of the elderly mix their prescription medications with over-the-counter drugs and risks many health issues when doing so.

Over the Counter Drug Use and the Elderly

Many older adults also have prescriptions for medications and use OCT (over-the-counter) medications which many times are used inappropriately. Sometimes this is done accidentally and other times, not. It is very common for older adults to accidentally misuse prescription drugs and medications that are purchased over the counter.

Misuse of over the counter drugs is common place when referring to the elderly, taking medications that can't be combined with prescription drugs like pain pills is very dangerous. Many cough and cold medications are dangerous when mixing them with certain prescription drugs or alcohol. Many times an older person will take more than the recommended dose and also take it too often.

Often times, innocently abusing controlled prescription drugs and over the counter medications results in emergency department visits due to the dangerous and serious reactions to mixing drugs and overdosing on over the counter medications. Reactions to medications that are misused can cause the person to lose coordination and fall breaking weakened bones and hips.

Alcohol Abuse and Misuse Among the Older Generation

We all know that combining alcohol with prescription drugs or other medications and substances can be dangerous and sometimes deadly. Many older people abuse alcohol, are alcoholics or binge drinkers. The older we get our tolerance to alcohol decreases. Just a couple of drinks many times are too much and mixing alcohol with potent drugs and medications can cause dangerous and deadly outcomes.

Did You Know?

Taking aspirin along with alcohol consumption can cause intestinal or stomach bleeding. Many older people take aspirin or medications that contain aspirin as recommended by their physician, consuming alcohol can cause serious health problems. If alcohol is consumed with acetaminophen in large doses it can cause liver damage. Acetaminophen is a very common painkiller and can be purchased over the counter or is combined in some prescription drugs.

Cold and allergy medications that contain antihistamines when combined with alcohol can cause sleepiness and drowsiness; this is also dangerous and can cause a person to lose balance and fall. There are certain medications like cough syrup and laxatives that contain alcohol and when combined with alcohol a person's alcohol level is increased. It can be deadly combining anti-depressants, painkillers, and some sleeping pills with alcohol.

Substance Abuse Treatment for Older Adults

If an older person has had a history of drug or substance abuse during their life they can also increase their risk of mental illness as they get older. Co-occurring psychiatric illness like severe depression is very common among older people if they have a substance or alcohol abuse disorder.

Substance abuse treatment many times is needed but goes untreated. It's important that the individual not only receives treatment for their alcohol or substance abuse but for their depression as well. Sometimes the elderly person consumes alcohol or abuses drugs because of their severe depression and treating both disorders needs to take place in order for the individual to recover from substance use and abuse.

Treatment for substance or alcohol abuse can vary depending on why the older person is abusing the substance. If the person has had a history of alcohol or drug abuse treatment needs to be focused on chronic abuse as well. If the individual is abusing drugs or alcohol due to depression, treatment needs to be focused on depression as well as their use drugs or alcohol.

Detox Treatment may be needed if the dependency to drugs or alcohol is severe. Medically assisted detoxification is imperative due to the serious and dangerous withdrawal symptoms and other medical risks involved with the older person.

Medications to treat depression may also be necessary in treating the older person recovering from substance or alcohol abuse. Because memory many times is impaired in the elderly individual therapy may be necessary depending on the circumstances. Medications and alcohol consumption at all times must be monitored for their safety and well-being depending on their age and psychological status. Without effective and professional treatment there is an increased risk of drug overdose and mental disorders associated with substance abuse and alcohol use no matter what your age is but as we get older, the risks may be greater.

We need to take care of our aging and elderly generation. They have worked hard and contributed to this great land of ours. Many are here for a short time and we need to take care of them and appreciate them while they're still here!

Websites Used
NIDA National Institute on Drug Abuse
SAMHSA Substance Abuse and Mental Health PDF
National Institute on Aging

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