How Substance Abuse Affects the Elderly

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We tend to associate drug use with children, teenagers and sexy young singles who are busy doing whatever they want. However, drug use, has no age limit. The idea that there’s an upper level age that someone stops being tempted by or using any kind of drug, whether it be alcohol or marijuana or Oxycontin is accurate drug use, doesn’t have an upper tier for ages. And it is important that we look at the ways that adults, especially elderly ones at an advanced age, may struggle with addiction in ways that aren’t easily captured and understood by their communities.

One of the things that we talk about in addiction treatment is that there’s no better time to start addiction treatment than whatever time you start.

That includes elderly people who are trying to make their fresh start at this point in their lives.

However, what does drug addiction in elderly people look like?

Well, it can be complicated.

There are several different ways that drug abuse, and use plays out in elderly people across the United States.

For this piece, we’ll be looking at four of the main avenues to substance abuse that elderly people in this country are faced with every day. We’ll be looking at alcoholism, Marijuana, meth, and the prescription drug crisis.

Additionally, we’ll be looking at barriers to treatment for addiction that these elderly people come up against either within the addiction treatment community or in their own home communities. And finally, we’ll be talking about what it means to provide solid Addiction Recovery treatment for the elderly at places like The Hills.

Elderly People and Alcoholism

Let’s start by talking about alcoholism.

Alcohol isn’t illegal. There’s no place in the United States where you can’t buy alcohol as long as you’re the appropriate age. So, when you think of alcoholism, who do you think of? Do you think of a middle-aged mom and her Wine Wednesdays? Do you think of a college student bingeing their booze at college parties? Both of those answers are likely scenarios. However, most people don’t think about elderly parents who got used to drinking a nightcap before bed when they were younger and who drink themselves to sleep now.

The parent that uses whiskey to self-medicate.

Alcoholism is an under addressed issue that plagues elderly communities because the access to alcohol is incredibly easy. Almost every single grocery store sells alcohol. Gas stations, liquor stores… Even movie theaters sell alcohol.

And there are countless examples of alcohol use and abuse in most major television shows.

It’s hard to escape alcohol, especially when you’ve been dealing with a problem like alcoholism for your whole life. Many elderly people grew up in different time periods where drinking a ton was normal. Additionally, many elderly people were exposed to drinking at a young age. Many elderly alcoholics talk about the fact that they started drinking when they were children, and never stopped.

But if they started at age 12, stopping at age 72 must be difficult.

Alcoholism is one of the less studied avenues of substance abuse that damages and plagues elderly people.

For lifelong alcoholics one of the issues is that their livers cannot sustain them anymore. They develop brain issues, stomach problems, including ulcers, and many other complications. They also – because of the dependency on alcohol – devolve into harmful behaviors such as driving while drunk and blackout drinking and may engage in behaviors that they wouldn’t when sober.

However, because of their experience drinking and how much they rely on alcohol to get through their day. They are rarely sober.

Marijuana Usage

Next is marijuana.

We think of marijuana as something that only young people do. Smoking up is something that is associated with college students or weary cancer patients. It’s not something that you’d expect your Nana to partake in… Even if she grew up a young woman in the 70s.

However, marijuana addiction also can strike at any age and the way that society views it as age locked and only linked with young adults, means that it’s incredibly difficult to talk about the ways that marijuana usage does negatively impact elderly people who are dependent on it, especially at an advanced age.

No matter what anyone tries to tell you, smoking marijuana is still smoking. That is still something that is harmful to your body, and to your lungs in particular. To an elderly person, especially one who’s probably undergoing other co-occurring disorders, in addition to addiction, this reliance on something that has to be inhaled as a smoke is dangerous.

We’re not talking about “Reefer Madness” when we talk about consequences to drug addiction or smoking marijuana on the regular. We are talking about, asthma developing at an advanced age, the exacerbation of emphysema, and a number of other problems that an elderly body simply shouldn’t have to handle.

At the end of the day, marijuana usage is something that negatively impacts elderly people, and is not spoken about as often as it should be in drug addiction treatment circles.

Elderly Meth Users

Third, is meth usage.

Methamphetamine are a class of drug that is commonly associated with the young and poor. However, as we know from Breaking Bad and other media that revolves around these Americans, these communities of young and poor people also have… elderly poor people who are swayed into using this drug that serves as an escape from their lives.

One of the issues here is that society in the wake of Breaking Bad has shaped a view of meth users that does not include grandparents. That does not include elderly people who are just trying to do their best, and who have escaped into the only drug that is accessible to them. (Meth is one of the most inexpensive drugs that a person can get their hands on outside of alcohol.)

One of the issues is that methamphetamine are often cut with different drugs. So, meth alone is incredibly hard on anyone’s system, but because of what can be cut with the drug, including dangerous drugs like fentanyl that have extremely high overdose and fatality rate, usage of meth, can lead to death.

It’s important that we learn to spot the signs of methamphetamine use and abuse in our elders, so that we can get them the treatment that they need. Before it’s too late.

The Prescription Drug Crisis

Finally, we’ll round out this part of the post by talking about the prescription drug abuse epidemic.

Opioids and other painkillers are the most predominantly used and abused substances in the United States. Like alcohol. These drugs aren’t illegal. However, abuse of them is.

We often see elder prescription use and abuse following surgeries injuries and other traumatic events that require pain pills to numb the pain.

One of the issues with opioid use is that after a while, the addictive nature of these medications makes it so that these elders require more and more of the drug in order to function without pain. For an elderly person, that means going up from one pill of Oxycontin to two a day, to three a day, to four a day until their prescription is out, and they have no relief for the pain.

These drugs are dangerous similarly to alcohol, marijuana, and methamphetamines because of the way that elderly, users can trip headfirst into unexpected world of addiction that causes harm to themselves and to their loved ones.

No one should put themselves at risk of a dangerous drug deal, but an elderly person trying to get their next hit of Oxycontin may risk everything for a single new bottle.

You see a lot of elderly people with prescription drug addiction hopping doctors and ignoring other health issues they may have in order to get their next fix from a doctor that doesn’t know them very well. This is dangerous and it keeps them from getting the help they need.

Community Struggles

Let’s talk about community struggles, because of the way that we understand addiction. many addictionologists do not take into consideration, elderly people either starting an addiction in their advanced age or developing another level to an ongoing addiction.

Biases and stereotypes work against elderly people here, as well as in other spaces as ageism shapes the way that we understand addiction. Even if you are elderly, you may write off your own behavior towards a substance, because it is not the typical mode of addiction. Because you do not think that you are a typical addict or substance abuser.

However, it’s important to be honest with yourself at every step of the way, including with the fact that there is no ideal for what a person dealing with addiction looks like.

Elderly people suffer from addiction, and it doesn’t matter that they don’t look like Paris Hilton in the 90s or John Wayne ever. If you struggle with addiction, you deserve help, no matter what age you are.

Nightcap - Substance Abuse Elderly - The HillsAnother issue is that because an elderly person and their family may not recognize the signs of addiction or want to believe that they are dealing with an addiction. You have a barrier to addiction treatment.

That means that these people aren’t going to feel willing to ask for help.

Here’s where you have someone who is elderly, saying, “I’m not actually struggling”, because we’re told, via media that there is only one way for an addict to look and it’s not a sweet old woman. (Except it can be!)

Other risk factors, such as access to wealth, where both poor, and wealthy elderly people have a risk factor. The wealthy persons access to substances and the poor person’s desire to escape from a hard life are both ways that this shows up.

Race, gender, sexuality, are all other factors as different communities, experience different and valid experiences with substance abuse and substance abuse treatment that plague them across their lifetime.

Here’s where The Hills comes in.

The Hills is a Treatment Center for Addiction, that is located in Los Angeles. We pride ourselves on being accessible, open, and friendly. We understand at every step of the way, what it’s like to deal with addiction at any age. Our facility primarily focuses on adults at any age level, who would like to kick that habit in their later years. We understand that there are stigmas and stereotypes that may stop an elderly person from reaching out for drug addiction treatment. But we’re here to help. Because we know what it’s like. And we know how much it hurts to have a problem and leave it unhealed.

Here at The Hills, you’ll have access to luxurious facilities for drug addiction treatment, a staff that knows intimately what it feels like to struggle with substance abuse across the ages, and a beautiful view to help ease your mind as you undergo detox and addiction treatment to reshape the way you approach substance abuse.

You are never too old to get addiction treatment help.

Reach out to The Hills to find out how we can help you break free from addiction, at any age.

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