Screen_Shot_2024-05-06_at_9.jpegSubstance misuse is a widespread issue that affects people of all ages, including the elderly population. As our loved ones reach their golden years, they may face unique challenges and struggles regarding substance use. The effects of aging can make it difficult for them to seek help or realize that they have a problem.

At Gateway Rehab, we understand that aging adults have unique needs when it comes to addressing substance misuse. Our specialized programs and services are designed to meet those needs and help older adults achieve long-term recovery. Schedule an appointment with us to learn more about our programs and services.

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If you or a loved one is an older adult struggling with substance misuse, this blog is for you. We'll discuss common reasons for substance use among seniors, signs and symptoms to look out for, and how treatment can help.

Prevalence of Substance Misuse Among Older Adults

While it is commonly associated with younger adults, substance misuse among older adults (over the age of 60) is also a growing concern. Among this age group, the substances used include alcohol, prescription medications, and illicit drugs. 

Alcohol Misuse

Alcohol use among older adults is a common and often overlooked issue. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicate that about 20% of adults aged 60-64 and 10% over 65 report binge drinking.

Excessive drinking can lead to serious health problems and increase the risk of substance use disorders.

Prescription Drug Misuse

80% of older adults used at least one prescription medication daily, with nearly half using more than five medications or supplements. With this high rate of medication use, it's not surprising that  prescription drug misuse is a significant concern for aging adults.

Some older adults may intentionally misuse their medications, while others may accidentally do so due to complex medication schedules or memory issues. Opioids and benzodiazepines are the most commonly misused prescription drugs among older adults.

Illicit Drug Abuse

While the percentage of older adults using illicit drugs is relatively low, it's still a growing concern. Approximately1% of adults aged 65 and older reported using an illicit drug in the past month.  Cocaine, heroin, and meth are the most  commonly used illicit substances among older adults.

Why Do Aging Adults Suffer from Substance Misuse

There are various factors that may contribute to an aging adult's substance use. Some of the most common reasons include:

  • Changes in brain chemistry: As we age, our brain chemistry changes, making us more susceptible to the effects of drugs and alcohol. This can lead to increased substance misuse or dependence.
  • Physical pain: Chronic pain is a common issue among older adults, and many turn to prescription medications or other substances for relief. Unfortunately, this can quickly develop into a substance use disorder.
  • Loneliness and isolation: As people age, we may experience the loss of loved ones, retirement, or other life changes that can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation. Substance misuse may provide a temporary escape from these feelings.
  • Self-medicating for mental health issues: Older adults may struggle with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD without realizing it or seeking treatment. Substance misuse may be a way to cope with these difficult feelings.

Signs & Symptoms of Substance Misuse in Older Adults

It's important to recognize the signs and symptoms of substance misuse in aging adults so that they can get the help they need. Some common signs to look out for include:

  • Changes in behavior or mood swings: This may include increased irritability, apathy, or changes in personality.
  • Poor hygiene and self-care: Older adults struggling with substance use may neglect personal grooming and hygiene habits.
  • Memory problems: Substance use can impact memory and cognitive functioning, leading to forgetfulness and confusion.
  • Changes in eating or sleeping patterns: Substance use can disrupt normal eating and sleeping habits, leading to weight changes, insomnia, or oversleeping.
  • Social withdrawal: Aging adults may withdraw from social activities they used to enjoy in favor of substance use.

If you notice these signs in yourself or a loved one, it's important to seek help from a professional treatment center likeGateway Rehab. Early intervention can make all the difference in achieving a successful recovery.

Challenges Facing Elderly Individuals Seeking Help for Substance Abuse

Despite more older adults using substances, they face unique challenges in seeking help. Some common barriers include:

  • Stigma: Older adults may feel ashamed or embarrassed about their drug or alcohol misuse and fear being judged by others.
  • Limited Access to Treatment Programs: Many treatment programs are not designed to meet the specific needs of older adults, such as mobility issues or age-related health conditions.
  • Denial and Lack of Awareness: Due to the stigma surrounding substance use disorder, they may not recognize addiction and may not be aware of available treatment options.
  • Financial Limitations: Many older adults are on a fixed income and may not have the resources to pay for treatment.

How Gateway Rehab Can Help

Substance use disorder treatment in older adults should be tailored to their unique needs. At Gateway Rehab, we employ evidence-based treatment methods in a residential unit that treats only 50 years of age or older on our Main Campus in Center Twp. We also offer other program support options, including: 

  • Detoxification services
  • Outpatient treatment options
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  •  Family programming and visits every week 
  • Education on healthy coping skills and relapse prevention techniques
  • Support for co-occurring mental health issues
  • Telehealth options for remote treatment
  • Music counseling, art counseling, adventure-based counseling, and spiritual counseling
  • Wellness programs such as yoga and mindfulness 

Aging Adults Deserve Recovery: Gateway Rehab Can Help!

Recognizing and addressing substance misuse among older adults is crucial for their prolonged well-being and overall health. With the right support and tailored treatment options, such as those offered at Gateway Rehab, aging adults can overcome the challenges of substance misuse and reclaim a healthier, more fulfilling life. 

It's important to approach this issue with understanding, compassion, and the proper resources to ensure the best possible outcomes for our elderly population. At Gateway Rehab, we understand that older adults face specific challenges when seeking help for substance use disorders. Our dedicated team is trained to address the distinct needs of aging adults, providing the support and care necessary to overcome substance misuse.

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance misuse, know that help is available. Contact us at 1-800-472-1177 or  schedule a consultation to learn more about our specialized programs for older adults. Recovery is possible at any age, and  Gateway Rehab is here to guide you every step of the way.

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