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Understanding Addiction in the Elderly

An older rests his head on his hand and gazed downward.
Addiction can be harder on older adults, yet we tend to think of it as a problem not worth treating.

When an older adult is clearly drinking too much or abusing drugs, we tend to have one of two responses:

  • What’s the harm? They’ve earned their fun and aren’t hurting anyone.
  • They’re so old; that problem probably isn’t worth fixing.

But both of those attitudes fail to consider a fundamental truth about addiction: It makes your life really bad—no matter what age you are.

Even worse, those attitudes are blatantly ageist because they assume older people don’t deserve—or can’t have—a happy and fulfilling life.

The Risk of Addiction in Older Adults

So what exactly is the extent of the problem?

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence offers the following statistics:

  • Fourteen percent of elderly emergency room admissions are due to alcohol or drug related problems.
  • Widowers over the age of 75 have the highest rate of alcoholism in the United States.
  • Older adults are hospitalized as often for alcohol-related problems as for heart attacks.
  • Nearly 17 million prescriptions for tranquilizers are prescribed for older adults each year. Benzodiazepines are the most commonly misused and abused prescription medications.

Symptoms of Addiction in Older Adults

While many of the symptoms of addiction look the same no matter a person’s age, there are specific things to look for in older adults, including the following:

  • Secretive drinking or drinking alone
  • Frequent visits to the emergency department
  • Recurrent accidents, injuries or falls
  • Not keeping medical appointments or following doctors’ advice
  • Cognitive decline or lack of self-care
  • A ritual of drinking before, during or after dinner
  • Drinking in spite of warning labels on medications they are taking
  • A loss of interest in activites they used to enjoy
  • Slurred speech
  • Hostility or depression

Contrary to the message society sometimes sends, older adults can and should be treated for substance abuse.

Comprehensive Addiction Treatment near Denver

Addiction impacts everyone’s heath negatively, but it’s especially hard on older adults. At The Raleigh House, we believe that everyone should be able to live their lives free from the chains of drugs or alcohol. Treatment isn’t just about giving something up; it’s about finding your own path to happiness and fulfillment, no matter your age. Fill out our form  or contact us today to learn more about our drug and alcohol addiction treatment programs.

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