The popular opinion was that only young people abuse drugs but studies done over the past few years and even more recently show that substance and drug abuse is becoming prevalent among older adults.
This disturbing development seems to be expected since most of these older citizens belong to the baby boomer generation of 1946 – 1964, and their trigger for drug abuse was that they grew up in a culture where love for drug experimentation was common.
Therefore, the view that this particular generation is more irresponsible regarding drug use might not be completely correct because the baby boomer generation seems to still be taking addiction to illegal drug and intoxicant abuse well into old age.
Records equally reveal that although the level of substance abuse among elderly people is still somewhat low, an increase in the misuse of drug prescription among elderly citizens is something to be concerned about.
It appears the older female folks are particularly affected as 11% of them are said to be misusing prescribed drugs while it is predicted that the number of adults (50 years and above) abusing drugs for recreational purposes will rise to 2.7 million in 2020.
Besides their generation, other factors responsible for drug misuse in older adults include:
- Isolation: elderly people who feel isolated might seek solace in drugs and alcohol
- Divorce: another reason many elderly people turn to drugs
- Retirement: lack of activities can trigger drug use
- Record of substance-misuse: a nudge in the wrong direction can trigger the need to start using again
- Death of loved ones can be so devastating that elderly citizens might take more than the dosage the doctor prescribed.
- Money and family problems are common catalysts for abuse
- Relocation away from family and friends or placement in an elderly home can cause melancholy and excess use of prescribed drugs
- Exposure by medical personnel to prescription drugs that people can easily abuse
- Mental challenges like depression, anxiety, and ADD or physical health deterioration due to surgeries and relapse can initiate the need to use drugs abusively.
Substance abuse is detrimental for everyone but to elderly adults, more deadly. Their bodies find it hard to quickly absorb and digest drugs and so they risk overdose and its consequences more than youths. Overdose on a substance like prescribed opioid, alcohol or benzodiazepines can cause damage in motor and cognitive skills and vision impairment. These can lead to accidents.
A Possible Way Out
One major challenge in fighting the further spread of this issue is that there are no valid tests or examination instruments accessible for recognizing or analyzing drug abuse in the elderly.
As such, alcohol and drug rehab centers should make use of unique methods that are less intrusive and non-stigmatizing in detecting substance-use disorders in older adults, especially those who suffer from multiple disorders as well as impairment in some parts of their body.
Such methods include interview screening tools like CAGE-Adapted to Include Drugs (CAGE-AID) which comprises a series of questions can help detect signs of abuse in older drug and alcohol addicts.
Suggested substance abuse treatment in elderly citizens include the use of naltrexone, disulfiram, or acamprosate with supervision.