Substance Abuse Amongst the Elderly

Substance Abuse Amongst the Elderly

As is the case with many of the industrialized nations, a shift in demographics is changing the way certain things have to be run.  Many of the population pyramids in these nations are inverted versus other eastern and developing countries which have larger bases, and narrower peaks.  This reflects the ever-growing aging populations in these countries. The Baby Boomers worked tirelessly to build this country into what is today. Many of them are now approaching or have past retirement, thus entering a new phase of their lives.  

It is estimated that the number of Americans who are aged 65 or older will more than double by the year 2060, representing 98 million individuals.  This translates into roughly 24 percent of the total population. There has been increases in education levels amongst retired individuals greater than 65 years of age.  The average US life expectancy has also increased from 68 years to 79 years. With an aging population comes a whole array of different issues that have to be dealt with in a different manner than normally practiced.  In the medical field, Geriatric Medicine deals with the medical and socioeconomic needs of the elderly population ensuring they receive the adequate care needed.

Statistics about Substance Abuse in the United States

Currently, there are over 20 million people in the United States who are both active and former addicts. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from 2000 to 2015, more than half a million individuals died from drug overdoses. 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. In 2017, the number of opiate overdose deaths has jumped to 144 per day. Addiction plays a multi-faceted role in how it affects society. Not only is it detrimental for the abuser’s overall health and risk of developing disease, it affects incarceration rates, vehicle accidents, employment and the overall financial burden placed on the government and health insurers. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has estimated that the annual financial burden to be in excess of $78.5 billion, including the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.

The Link Between Substance Abuse and the Elderly Population

As people age, they begin to experience a number of health-related issues which affect their quality of life.  Many elderly individuals suffer from one or more of the following conditions: diabetes, hypertension, cholesterol, chronic pain/ arthritis, depression, sleep disturbances, etc. Numerous medications can be prescribed to relieve symptoms of dis-ease.  These patients are known as “Poly Pharmacy” Patients. According to SAMHSA, it has been estimated that 3 out of 10 individuals who are between the ages of 57 to 85 are currently using at least 5 different prescription medications. This increases the risk for incorrect utilization and abuse.      

Causes of Substance Abuse in the Elderly Population

Causes of Substance Abuse in the Elderly Population
Causes of Substance Abuse in the Elderly Population

There are many different factors that can contribute to an individual beginning to abuse drugs.  Many times, it is often unintentional. It can be related to a general decline in one’s health, mental or socioeconomic status.  These health-related or life-changing events can lead one to look for an escape route in order to relieve some of the symptoms that they are experiencing.  With this, the vicious cycle of substance abuse begins.

Some triggers which can cause one to begin abusing alcohol or prescription medications include:  retirement, financial burdens, relocation, ailing health (depression, memory loss, major surgeries, etc.), sleep disturbances, etc.  The metabolic processes in one’s body naturally decline as one ages, including the processing of medicines as well. Therefore, lower doses of a medicine can have a higher potentiating effect on an elderly individual, causing them to become addicted more easily.

How to Identify Substance Abuse in the Elderly

It is important to note that the symptoms of drug abuse can be masked by symptoms that are often attributed to “aging”, thus leading the substance abuse issue to be overlooked.  A physician must be able to differentiate between the symptoms of normal health decline from those of addiction. The most common medications to be abused amongst the elderly include Opioids which are used to control pain, such as oxycodone, Percocet, Vicodin etc.  Benzodiazepines such as Valium, Xanax, and Klonopin can also be abused.

The following are warning signs that someone may be abusing prescription drugs. Filling a prescription for the same medicine at two different pharmacies.  Taking more of a medicine than they used to or take more than is instructed on the label. Taking the medicine at different times or more often than is instructed. Becoming more withdrawn or angry. Appearing confused or forgetful. Often talking about a medicine. Are afraid to go somewhere without taking a medicine. Become defensive when you ask about a medicine. Make excuses for why they need a medicine. Store “extra” pills in their purse or in their pocket. Sneak or hide medicine. Have been treated for alcohol, drug, or prescription drug abuse in the past.

Substance Abuse Treatment Options for the Elderly Populations

Substance Abuse Treatment options
Substance Abuse Treatment options

Substance Abuse Treatment options are available for elderly patients who have fallen between the cracks and are plagued with this extra burden in their lives.  At Detox of South Florida, a premier Florida drug and alcohol treatment center, treatment options for elderly patients with alcohol and chemical dependencies are addressed and treated. Patients are treated according to the individual patient’s specific substances of abuse and usage history. This Drug rehabilitation center provides alcohol treatment services, cocaine treatment services, benzodiazepine treatment services, opiate treatment services and many other substance abuse treatments.  The latest, cutting–edge technology and substance abuse treatment modalities are employed to provide a “whole-patient” approach to treating all the medical complications associated with addiction in the elderly.