It is a common misconception that substance abuse disorders develop in people as young adults. Older adults can also suffer from drugs, alcohol and pharmaceutical dependencies.
Developing a substance abuse disorder has no age limit, and neither does recovery. In our latest blog post, we look at how addiction impacts the health and lives of older adults.
The Complex Network of the Brain
Substance addiction happens for a variety of reasons, including early development, genetics, and environmental factors. The brain is ultimately at the center of addiction; all perception-altering substances alter neurotransmission to the brain. This means that they either stimulate our pleasure and reward centers, or slow down the responses of the central nervous system.
The brain is particularly sensitive to damage in older adults who use substances. Length of use also factors in here – the longer someone has been using, the higher their risk of temporal lobe damage. This leaves us more susceptible to loss of perception, memory, coordination, and reaction time – skills we need to live our everyday life.
Older adults who use substances are more vulnerable to accidents such as car collisions or trips and falls. It’s important to remember that this doesn’t just include alcohol or illegal drugs – prescription medication can be a contributing factor.
Healing the Body – Impacting the Mind
As we age, we become more vulnerable to ailments – we’re more susceptible to aches, pains, and chronic illnesses.
Older adults are often prescribed painkilling medication for issues such as joint and muscle pain, other conditions associated with different diseases and ailments, and post-injury recovery. One study demonstrated that 25% of all pain-relieving medication prescribed in America was given to people aged 65 and over. These prescription painkillers can be highly addictive, and there are risks of developing substance abuse disorders even when medication is prescribed by a physician. Whether you obtained your substances from a doctor or a dealer, the outcome can be the same – dependence.
Loneliness comes with its own variety of health risks and is another factor that contributes to increasing levels of substance abuse in older people. A study of 3000 participants aged 55-85 showed that the use of psychotropic drugs correlated with feelings of loneliness.
Adjusting to retirement or having children leave the nest can be a huge emotional hurdle. It can be very difficult to adjust to having more free time in place of a bustling social or professional calendar. Some 28% of older adults live alone in the U.S.A, which also contributes to feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Feelings of loneliness are not impossible to overcome. There are lots of positive steps that one can take to have a healthy social life as an older person, such as joining a club or community group. Social participation doesn’t only limit susceptibility to substance abuse but improves the quality of life overall!
Care for Addiction
One of the crucial steps when working towards sobriety is rebuilding social support networks. Since older people may be more likely to suffer from loneliness, recovery comes with some challenges. While they can seem problematic, they do not outweigh the benefits of sobriety, and there are always options for finding a social network that can help one through the process.
Many states have addiction recovery centers with programs focused entirely on older adults. Other such therapies include music therapy and movement therapy. There are also medical interventions to alleviate the physical responses to weaning off of substances.
As an older adult, it may be frightening to have a substance abuse disorder. However, it is never too late to change, and regardless of a person’s age, it is always possible to get sober. With the right support, older adults can find recovery and turn their life around!