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Substance Abuse Linked with Untreated Mental Illness in Older Adults

addiction treatment center chicagoThe older adult population is often overlooked, poorly understood, and underserved group amongst substance abusers. According to recent research, there are approximately 7 risk factors associated with substance abuse in the elderly.  They are as follows: being male, experiencing major life changes, loneliness/depression, a previous history with substance abuse, comorbid psychiatric disorder, a family history of addiction, trouble accessing treatment, and the stigma associated with treatment.

As individuals progress through the developmental stages of life, he/she must adapt to changes at each stage.  The changes and tasks associated with older adulthood include coping with the loss of spouses, family and friends. As these losses begin compounding, one may find him/herself living alone or possibly losing their independence, without support and with failing health which limit accessibility to the outside world. Although men are more likely to abuse substances in general, older adult females often outlive their male counterparts, are more likely to report depression, anxiety, and trouble sleeping, and are thus more likely to receive prescriptions with high abuse potential such as the benzodiazepines and sedative-hypnotics.

In treating and working with older adults, it is imperative that health care providers understand substance abuse in the larger cultural context.  The elderly often encounter ageist views within our society and as one ages, he/she may encounter growing negative messages about old age which leads to the use of substances to cope with these new found anxieties. When an older adult talks to a medical provider about anxiety or depression, they often overlook the possibility of substance abuse and prescribe medications that are easily addictive. This is putting many older adults at risk of substance abuse or misuse.

Generationally, older adults are not the most likely candidates for treatment, as they grew up in a time when there was a large stigma associated with mental illness/addiction. Mental illness and substance abuse are not easily overcome, and even more difficult to diagnose and treat when the individual is less likely to seek out help on their own. Substance abuse and addiction is a serious ailment, and it takes more than self-discipline and a strong will to overcome.

Treatment that is focused on the needs of the elderly will include screening for co-occurring disorders, vital outreach, and full inclusion of one’s family and/or support system.  Rather than wait for an individual to bring up the concern of substance abuse, depression, and anxiety, it is ideal for all providers to be proactive and inclusive when screening for this during appointments.

If you are a senior looking for help, or know someone who is, call New Hope Recovery Center and set up an assessment. The assessment is the first step towards getting the necessary help to improve the quality of life for yourself or the person you love.

Written by: New Hope Recovery Center

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Senior Citizens: Alcohol Abuse and Misuse