A Growing Problem: Substance Abuse in Older Adults

According to the US Census Bureau, it is estimated that there will be over 72 million people over the age of 65 by the year 2030. Not only is the large Baby Boomer generation reaching retirement age, but medical advances are increasing the average lifespan of people in the United States.

Older Adults and the Risk of Substance Abuse

As the population of older adults expands, so do  concerns for their health. Historically, there haven’t been high rates of substance abuse in this age group, though it is thought that past rates may have been under-reported. Research is showing substance abuse to be a growing public health concern for people 65 and older. It is now estimated that more than a million people past retirement age abuse alcohol, drugs, or both. As a result, many families are facing the challenges of caring for an aging parent while managing substance abuse issues at the same time.

Why is Substance Abuse a Growing Concern?

The numbers vary depending on the reports that you read. But, there is no question that the incidence of substance abuse is growing in all age groups, including older adults. What is causing the increased risk?

One potential cause lies in the change in attitudes about the use of drugs and alcohol. For example, Baby Boomers have had more exposure to illicit drugs in their lifetimes and thus may normalize the use of substances that past generations have avoided. Unfortunately, this may also increase the Baby Boomers’ likelihood of experiencing the negative effects of drug use such as health issues, family issues, and overdose.

Another issue is that the use of prescriptions is growing in the United States, and some of these medications can lead to addiction. It is common for people to look for a “cure” in medications, resulting in an increase in drug use. Older adults suffer more physical ailments than younger adults, and tend to use more prescription medications. These can interact with each other in a harmful way, as well as produce negative effects with mixed with alcohol and illicit drugs. Older adults also metabolize certain substances like alcohol, more slowly, making them more susceptible to intoxication. This can lead to falls and injury.

Finally, older adults face life changes that can lead to increased use of substances, such as the death of a spouse or partner; loss of independence; and social isolation.

Professional Assistance for Substance Abuse Problems

Older adults can benefit from treatment, so family members and professionals should not be afraid to bring up their concerns. If you suspect that a family member is struggling with an addiction, then it is essential to find the right treatment program. Talk to us at Windward Life Care, and we will support you in finding the services that best meet the needs of your family.