While substance abuse has traditionally been associated with young adults and teenagers, recent studies suggest that a growing number of elderly citizens are becoming addicted. Specifically, seniors have a high incidence of addiction to substances such as pain killers and alcohol. From 2002 to 2011 the rate of drug usage among the elderly doubled.
The Driving Force Behind Alcohol and Drug Addiction among the Elderly
Many of today’s senior citizens were young adults or teenagers during the 1960s and 70s. During this time drug use became more popular and widespread in the U.S. As these individuals age and lose both friends and family, many have resorted to the use of various drugs to deal with chronic pain, grief and isolation. There are also some seniors that feel that since they are nearing the end of their lives, drugs can help to escape the reality of their situation.
The manner in which doctors respond to elderly patients may also be contributing to the problem. Whereas as younger patient suffering from pain may be given recommendations that don’t involve taking pills regularly, a doctor may simply give elderly patients painkillers and then send them on their way. This simplistic approach to treatment could result in the elderly patient becoming addicted to the medicine, rather than finding natural, alternative sources of treatment.
Differences between Elderly Drug Users and Young Adults
Research indicates that older people absorb drugs a bit differently than their younger counterparts. Drug addiction among the elderly is more serious than in young adults and teenagers because their organs, especially their liver and kidneys due to age are less capable of processing these substances. This means that a greater percentage of seniors who use drugs are likely to end up in the emergency room.
Solutions to the Problem
Doctors and seniors must work together to come up with alternative solutions that don’t involve the consumption of drugs, whether they are prescription are otherwise. Some of these changes could include a new diet, exercise regimen, or games and mental activities that can keep the mind sharp and engaged.
If it is necessary for a senior to take pills, they should be monitored by their children or other members of the family. The problem with taking more pills than is recommended is that not only can it lead to an overdose, but the body will also fail to break down and process the drugs correctly, which can lead to confusion that may result in the patient consuming additional pills.
Seniors who have become addicted to illegal drugs such as cocaine or heroin should enter a rehab treatment center. In this facility they will receive the care and guidance which is needed to help them overcome their addiction and live out the remainder of their life with greater fulfillment. Street drugs are extremely powerful and addictive and it is unwise for family members to attempt to force their parents or grandparents to quit cold turkey, as this can result in severe withdrawal that can make the problem worse.