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Addressing Addiction in Older Adults with Counseling

Treating senior addiction,seniors with substance abuse issues,senior counseling with Carolina Counseling Services Fayetteville NC,senior therapy,addiction in seniors,substance abuse counseling for seniors,senior emotional health Fayetteville NC


Addressing Addiction in Older Adults with Counseling


People past their middle age are not likely to be associated with substance abuse, or so we thought. Surveys, however, show that people in this age bracket are increasingly becoming users and dependents to either alcohol or addictive drugs. According to Today’s Geriatric Medicine, the estimated figure of addicted older adults has already reached eight million, and it is still climbing, meaning geriatric addiction is a growing problem in the United States.

Being born and growing up during the period of the counterculture Hippie Movement in the 50s-60s, the “Baby Boomer” generation are now seniors. They are now approaching retirement and being plagued by declining health due to aging. The rates of addiction among seniors is realistically higher than what studies show. This is because not everyone with the symptoms is accounted for due to the difficulty in recognizing the symptoms and diagnosing substance abuse and dependency in this age group.


Growing Older with Addiction

Senior addicts are classified into two types: (1) “Early-onset addicts” – They are those who abused and became dependent on drugs or alcohol prior to the age of 65. The habit has been going throughout their lifetime and often perpetuates as age advances; and (2) “Late-onset addicts” – They are those who abused drugs and alcohol after the age of 65. Early onset addicts make up two-thirds of the geriatric alcoholic population and tend to have more physical and emotional health issues than the second group.

Substance abuse or dependency concerns in senior adults may not be simple to recognize or diagnose. Stressful life changes that occur as one age may increase the incidence or promote the development of addiction in late life. For instance, as age advances, seniors enter retirement, loved ones or peers pass away, social circles dwindle, living situations change, or physical illnesses may increase.

Drinking alcohol or abusing substances may be resorted to as a form of self-medication and the benefits of their euphoric effect in numbing physical and emotional pain caused by difficult and painful life transitions may be enjoyed. Alcohol or substance abuse problems may be attributed as a kind of ageism, or as a prejudice with the notion that senior adults are entitled to their dose of drugs or alcohol.

There is hesitancy in taking away the substances away from seniors. Even primary health providers may hesitate to diagnose the habit as an addiction problem. The negative impact of addiction does not spare older adults. Like in younger addicts, addiction in older adults can leave a trail of damaged relationships once it becomes a chronic disease, impacting the quality of their twilight years.


The Dangers of Addiction in Later Years

Addiction in late life can present unique problems and can be particularly dangerous to the aging population. As a person ages, physiological changes occur both in the brain and in the body. This means the metabolism slows down and it becomes difficult for the substances to be filtered through the body as effectively as before. They can build up quickly, and even with smaller amounts, may lead to accidental overdose. The changes that come with aging can easily interfere with how alcohol and substances break down in the body.

The fact that aging brings about changes often encourages addiction. Chronic illnesses, depression, isolation, loss of mobility and dexterity, loss of identity, role and status, and financial insecurity may converge as an excuse to turn to alcohol and substances. The aging process can be a struggle for many older adults that using drugs or alcohol is considered a method to reduce physical pain or emotional difficulties.

Alcohol or substance abuse can increase the risk for weak bones, exacerbate memory loss, increase incidence of delirium, induce self-harming tendencies, and heighten comorbid medical or emotional health concerns. Addiction to alcohol or substance may work up the odds for a negative drug or co-occurring disorder interaction. While the habit may be a way to escape the intolerable age-related difficulties, in reality, alcohol and substance abuse will only serve to complicate and worsen problems, situations, or disorders in the long run.

Addiction, especially for “late-onset addicts” may start innocently by initially taking medications more than the prescribed dosage. It could also be by mixing drugs and alcohol, a potent combination with negative interactions and chemical changes in the brain and body. When it becomes a habit, it can create dependency and can transform easily into compulsive drug-seeking behavior. The lack of power over the use of alcohol and substances can morph into an addiction.


A Problem Hiding Behind Age

With more and more drugs becoming easily accessible as treatment for various aches, pains and other illnesses that come with age, the number of seniors taking prescription drugs and other mood-altering or pain-relieving drugs continues to rise. Other concerns include the abuse of recreational drugs. Like younger people, seniors are also susceptible to substance abuse.

While age is often equated with experience and wisdom, it can be difficult for any older adult to admit having an addiction problem. The very factors that lead to addiction can be the same reasons that cause detecting an addiction problem to be more difficult. Families, friend, caretakers and health professionals may fail to recognize the existence of the problem in senior adults. Oftentimes, the symptoms are mistaken as common signs of aging. The age-related physical changes and the inconsistency in the treatment of different medical conditions may hide the problem and keep it from being diagnosed and treated accurately.

Addiction does not discriminate. It affects all ages, gender, races, and social statuses. It is not just a young people’s problem, but it also affects adults and seniors. Although it can be a late-life occurrence for older adults, the symptoms are as identifiable as in young addicts. Loved ones are advised to stay alert for the sudden appearance of the following warning signs that may indicate addiction:


  • Occasional muddled speech
  • Significant change in sleeping and eating patterns
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain
  • Unkempt appearance
  • Poor personal hygiene/unpleasant body odor
  • Repeated health complaints without indication of medical issues
  • Irritability
  • Unexplained bruises
  • Blackouts or fuzzy memories
  • Frequent absentmindedness
  • Social withdrawal
  • Depression, anxiety and emotional health issues
  • Storing pills in secret or lying about drug use
  • Distress or awkwardness when confronted about drug use behaviors
  • Frequent falls
  • “Doctor shopping” or seeing different physicians to obtain additional medications
  • Presence of empty liquor bottles

Help and Recovery at Any Age

 Receiving help for a drug addiction is important at any age. When it comes to seeking help, it can be particularly crucial for seniors with an addiction problem, due to its greater impact and complications that younger users may not experience. No matter what reason compels the alcohol or substance abuse, addiction can be overcome with proper treatment. Although further research is still needed, studies show that older adults who have received treatment for alcohol and substance abuse benefited with improved health and general well-being over other age groups.

If you or a senior loved one is struggling with an addiction problem, it is essential to find a credible professional with experience and training in treating geriatric addiction competently and sensitively. Fortunately, treatment is nearby with Carolina Counseling Services – North Fayetteville Office, Fayetteville, NC where an independently contracted right fit therapist will be matched to your addiction issue.

It is never too late for anyone to make positive changes after addiction and stay sober or clean for life. If you are ready to be helped, call now to schedule an appointment.

Serving Areas: Carolina Counseling Services

Counties: Cumberland, Bladen and Sampson Counties, NC
Areas: Fayetteville NC, Ft Bragg NC, Pope Field NC, Silver City NC, Linden NC, Bowmore NC, Autryville NC, Bunnlevel NC, Erwin NC, Dundarrach NC, Pineview NC, Rex NC, Lemon Springs NC, Johnsonville NC, Eastover NC, Stedman NC and Wade, NC
Zip Codes: 28311, 28395, 28390, 28356

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Carolina Counseling Services – North Fayetteville Office, Fayetteville, NC

422 McArthur Road, Suite 2
FayettevilleNC 28311

Choose your Therapist

  • Becky Clark, MSW, LCSW

    Specializes in: (Ages 18+) Anxiety, Depression, Individuals, Couples, Geriatrics, Criminal Justice, Stress Management, Loss and Grief related to death, disability, divorce, deployment, “empty nest”, retirement and other major life transitions
    Insurance: BCBS, Tricare, Medicare, and Cash

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    Location: Fayetteville, NC