Figures published by the UK government’s Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID), and the USAs National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), both seem to indicate that there has been a rise in substance abuse in the elderly. The US claims it is one of the fastest-growing health problems in the country. Statistics show that in the UK, the number of older people entering treatment for substance use disorder (SUD) has been climbing steadily each year.
There is an assumption by some people that drugs are a young person’s gig, something that we grow out of as we age. Whilst it may be true that illegal drug taking is more prevalent in the under 30s, the misuse of alcohol and prescription medication is much more common in the over 50’s. And because of other factors impacting on a person’s health as they get older, signs of alcohol and substance abuse are frequently missed, overlooked, or even ignored by doctors, caregivers, and family members.
Drug or alcohol abuse among the older generation is particularly dangerous because seniors are more susceptible to the deteriorating effects of these substances. It becomes harder for the body to metabolize toxic substances, and there is increased brain sensitivity to them. In addition, the effects such as impaired judgment, lack of coordination and reduced reaction times can pose a much greater risk to the physical health of an older individual if they are involved in a fall or an accident.
So why is our ageing population turning to alcohol and drugs?
Here are some factors that, whilst not wholly unique to the older generation, are frequently widespread in that age group.
People with little social contact or a support network are more at risk of developing mental health problems; and are more likely to struggle with feelings of isolation and loneliness. Both of which can lead to them using alcohol and drugs to combat negative emotions and boredom. This is a big issue as we get older. We are less mobile, so we generally can’t get out and about as easily as we once did. We may have less friends and family around, or we simply aren’t capable of socialising in the way that we once did.
As we age, we are more likely to have physical and chronic health problems. Which can impact in several ways. The first of which we have already covered it impacts upon mobility, which can then lead to isolation and loneliness.
With these types of physical issues, we are more likely to be prescribed potentially addictive medication. Opioids such as morphine, fentanyl, and oxycodone, are all used to treat pain, possibly caused by an accident; broken bones are commonplace in seniors, as people age, they become more brittle, and less sure on the feet; doubling the likelihood of damage due to a fall.
They are prescribed for the agony that accompanies (often age-related) conditions such as osteoporosis, back and spine degeneration, hip and knee replacement surgery. Benzodiazepines, which are used to treat sleep problems, such as insomnia, as well as anxiety and pain. All these drugs are highly addictive and cause physical dependence which can lead to severe withdrawals.
Chronic illness such as obesity, heart problems, diabetes, and constant pain, can all have an impact on mental wellbeing, and be a contributing factor in the onset of depression and other mood disorders. Even without an underlying physical health condition, depression, anxiety, stress, and memory loss are all too often present amongst seniors. Individuals frequently find it harder to cope with both day to day living, and the impact of life-changing events, as they age.
A life-changing circumstance, incident, or series of events can contribute towards someone turning to the use of alcohol and drugs, in a bid to numb the emotional pain caused. Some examples of these include:
Death – the passing of a partner, spouse, close friend, relative or even a pet, causes grief. This can have a serious effect on someone’s emotional well-being, at any age. Sadly, in the elderly this may be one of their few regular visitors, or a constant companion, leaving them both bereft and lonely.
Retirement and/or loss of purpose – for some giving up work, or stopping a regular activity, can leave them feeling rudderless and without purpose. It also leaves a huge amount of free time that was previously occupied, leading to boredom.
Financial strain – a change in financial circumstances can be a hugely stressful occurrence. It could mean an individual can no longer afford to go out, or to pay for little luxuries, and in the worst cases even buy necessities like groceries, or heating.
Conflict within the family – some conflicts, especially within families can cause deep emotional scars. It can lead to disconnection, the cessation of visits, denial of access to grandchildren, all which can lead to hopelessness and low self-esteem.
Moving or relocating – moving home can be stressful at any age, it can feel even harder as we get older. It is sad to leave behind a lifetime of friends and colleagues, places full of memories. Having to downsize to a smaller place or get rid of treasured possessions. Getting to know a new location can feel overwhelming.
Mental health and substance abuse are intrinsically linked, with one impacting on the other. The misuse of alcohol and drugs can exacerbate already present anxiety and depression, as well as trigger these illnesses; and some individuals self-medicate to try and “fix” the symptoms of these and other psychological conditions.
Any long-term and excessive use of a substance can result in dependency and addiction. Addiction does not recognise age, class, race, or gender, it can grasp hold of anyone, at any time. No one chooses to be an addict, and there is no single reason why someone becomes one.
Are you worried about your drinking and drug taking? Or maybe it is someone you love that could have a problem.
Remember you are never too old to get help.
Here at Ibiza Calm, our luxury residential rehab centre, we offer a range of therapies for the treatment of addiction, alcoholism, prescription medicine dependency, anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders.
Our highly qualified team of doctors, therapists and counsellors will design for your care a bespoke personalised program, including talk, group and equine facilitated therapy, CBT, and transcranial magnetic stimulation.
For further information or details on admissions to our Spanish rehab centre contact firstname.lastname@example.org
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