No matter what age you are, life has a way of providing plenty of challenges and stressors that must be managed. Some people make the unfortunate choice to try to manage those things with the “help” of drugs or alcohol. Soon enough, the drug use stops being a choice and develops into a substance use disorder.
Age Assumptions of Addicts
We might imagine the high-ability student or young professional using drugs to stay alert and keep working. We might picture avid partiers—as young as teens and perhaps as old as thirty-somethings—getting addicted to drugs they first tried as a way to enhance a night out while leaving day-to-day problems behind. We may think of middle-aged folks who have seen their share of disappointments and have maybe made the shift from social drinker to problem drinker.
One group that may not immediately spring to mind, however, is senior citizens. But older adults are just as susceptible to developing a substance use disorder for all of the reasons anyone else is. Senior citizens face ongoing challenges—and sometimes they try to manage those challenges in ways that are more destructive than helpful .
Late Onset Addiction Is An Ongoing Issue
Many seniors have been drug or alcohol users for a long time. Perhaps they have been struggling with a substance use disorder for years or even decades. Individuals of this sort absolutely need help putting substance misuse behind them, but they are not our primary focus here.
Instead, we are focused on those who start using drugs or alcohol in their later years. It is fair to wonder why anyone might do that. After all, aren’t our senior citizens supposed to be full of life experience and wisdom that would ensure they don’t fall victim to the temptations of drug use?
In a perfect world, that might be the case. But we live in a world in which there are a number of reasons an older individual might get caught up in drug or alcohol use and develop a substance use disorder.
The Dangers of Prescription Drugs
One all-too common route to problematic drug use for seniors is prescription medication. For example, many older adults are prescribed opiates to manage pain after an injury or surgery or to address chronic pain. These pain medications—which include oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and others—are known to be both extremely effective at lessening pain and extremely addictive. The opioid crisis in America has struck people of all ages, including a significant number of senior citizens.
Benzodiazepines (often referred to as “benzos”) are another class of drug that can quickly lead to a substance use disorder. These drugs—which include some of the most prescribed medications available, including Xanax, Ativan, Valium, and more—can be used to treat anxiety, insomnia, or pain. They can also lead to all sorts of problems if misused, as they often are. As with opiates, this is a problem that affects people of every age, including older adults who are prescribed benzos and then find themselves addicted to them.
Other Potential Problems Leading to Disorders
Seniors face plenty of difficulties in their later years, and in some cases, those difficulties can lead to drug or alcohol use. These challenges may include (but are certainly not limited to):
- Retirement or job loss resulting in boredom or a sense of lost purpose
- Financial challenges
- Declines in physical and/or mental health
- Memory loss
- Ongoing illness of a loved one
- Death of friends and family members (or even beloved pets)
- Unresolved family conflicts
- Separation or divorce
- Downsizing or moving into a retirement community or assisted living
- Sleep issues
Any and all of the above can lead a person toward drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism.
Getting Help Should Be the First Priority
If you are an older individual who has developed issues with drugs or alcohol, you may feel a sense of embarrassment about the problem and a reluctance to seek out assistance. And if you are the loved one of a senior citizen, you may be reluctant to confront them about their drug use out of respect, awkwardness, or a combination of the two.
This reluctance is understandable, but it is also dangerous. The solution for a senior citizen struggling with drugs or alcohol is the same as it for a person of any age: detox and rehab in a fully-accredited residential treatment center—like The Aviary Recovery Center.
Our personalized, compassionate, evidence-based approach can help you—regardless of your age—put drug use behind you and help you begin your recovery journey with confidence. We will introduce you to the strategies and resources that can help you maintain your sobriety so that you can enjoy your golden years.