Addiction In The Elderly Population

February 2, 2023

Most people associate drug abuse and addiction with young adults. While it is true that young people as a group have a higher risk of substance use, the evidence for the elderly population is, to put it nicely, sparse.

Despite a lack of proof, it is commonly considered that adult addiction and drug usage are a worldwide hidden epidemic.

While no one wants to think of their parents or grandparents struggling with drug abuse or addiction, it is vital to search for these problems.

Substance Abuse Disorder Is A Public Health Crisis Among The Elderly 

It is a common misconception that drug addiction diseases do not affect the elderly. In 2014, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) discovered that approximately one million seniors over 65 have this disease.

According to the 2015-2016 Medical Expenditure Survey, 9.8 million older Americans (65+) filled at least one opioid prescription in the United States, with 3.6 million (7.1%) having at least four prescriptions. According to the poll, opioid use increased as patients’ health decreased, reaching 39.4% in those in poor health and 8.8% in those in excellent health. People will require greater pain treatment as they age. Opioids, on the other hand, may be addictive, and everyone who uses them at any age risks getting addicted or abusing them.

Why Is Substance Abuse And Addiction In The Elderly Ignored And Underreported? 

Despite the statistics, there is very little research on drug use in adults compared to the number of studies on younger people.

According to American Addiction Centers, one possible explanation for the lack of numbers is that people who do not seek or receive effective treatment do not receive a diagnosis. They cannot be counted in the statistics until they are diagnosed.

They continue by explaining why they believe elderly people do not seek treatment:


They argue that due to unintentional ageism, healthcare practitioners may be underdiagnosing the disease. While “ageism” is typically connected with negative attitudes or acts, such as dismissing older people because of their age, it embraces any circumstance in which an older person is regarded differently than a younger one.

Years Of Misinformation 

Years of misinformation have resulted in confusion and a lack of therapy.

Many drug misuse issues begin with infrequent use and normal prescription regimens. Seniors and their caregivers might be ignorant of a problem because no one told them what to look for, or they may dismiss concerns even if they were told.

Furthermore, many older people were misinformed about addiction by watching anti-drug propaganda films as children. These movies and lessons emphasized the relationship between morality and substance use, which may have led older individuals to believe that substance abuse problems make them bad people. They also tended to represent addicts in exaggerated, panic-inducing ways, with actual addiction features typically missing. Head over to The Hader Clinic if you’d like to know more about addiction treatment.

How Addiction Affects Older Adults 

Because of the inherent physical and mental health concerns that accompany aging, substance abuse can disproportionately negatively impact older people.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, as we age, we metabolize medications and alcohol more slowly. As a result, the elderly may be more susceptible to such medications.

Substance addiction may also increase the risk of heart and lung disease, mental disorders, cognitive issues, and stroke. Alcohol addiction has been linked to cancer, liver damage, reduced immune systems, osteoporosis, diabetes, high blood pressure, ulcers, and stroke in older persons. Furthermore, studies have linked benzo usage to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Substance Abuse In Senior Citizens 

The following are the reasons for drug misuse in elderly people:

1. Chronic Disease Or Pain 

For chronic pain and diseases, many individuals turn to potentially addictive medications.

2. Neglect 

Elder abuse can manifest itself in a variety of ways. This can include physical, sexual, and financial exploitation. Or negligence on the part of an authorized caregiver. Neglecting to care for your loved ones may result in dependency and pharmaceutical abuse.

3. Life Evolves 

Grief, loneliness, isolation, and loss of mobility can all lead to the need for coping mechanisms such as alcohol consumption. Changes can also cause mental health issues, leading to drug abuse disorder.

4. Difficulties With Mental Health 

Substance abuse can also be linked to stressors and other aging-related conditions. Those who suffer from mental health problems are more susceptible to developing drug use disorders.

 How To Assist Seniors Who Have Substance Abuse Or Addiction Issues 

Knowing that a loved one is battling with addiction is difficult. Recognizing a problem is the first step toward assisting your loved one in overcoming it and here is how:

1. Do Not Point The Finger At Anyone

Addiction in the elderly is not a choice. It is an illness that has to be addressed.

2. If They Are In Long-Term Care, Keep An Eye On Them 

Talk to their carers about the resources accessible to them. Then determine if it is appropriate for them.

3. Consult A Physician 

Consider speaking with drug addiction professionals or physicians specializing in the elderly, such as those from a Nashville rehab center. These specialists can assist you in asking the appropriate questions and guiding you in approaching your loved ones.

Key Takeaway 

Recognizing indicators of drug addiction in adults is critical since the general population and medical experts frequently neglect it. It is a reason for concern, so knowing how to recognize these signs is essential if you want to aid the elderly. If you are worried, take action and help raise awareness about this battle.

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Andi Perullo de Ledesma

I am Andi Perullo de Ledesma, a Chinese Medicine Doctor and Travel Photojournalist in Charlotte, NC. I am also wife to Lucas and mother to Joaquín. Follow us as we explore life and the world one beautiful adventure at a time.

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