They are the forgotten addicts. When most people think of substance abuse, the elderly aren’t the first group that comes to mind. But they are growing in huge numbers. There are currently 78 million Americans from the baby boom generation headed towards retirement. Some are bringing more than just their rocking chairs. They’re bringing with them epidemic levels of drug and alcohol abuse and mental illness. Christian Drug Detox Helpline Naperville, IL understands abuse can happen to people of all ages.
For years, the face of alcohol and drug abuse has traditionally been young people. In the 1960s and 70s, many baby boomers spent their prime years experimenting with drugs and alcohol at a greater rate than any previous generation. A study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in 2011 revealed that 6.3 percent of adults in their 50s used illicit drugs compared to 2.7 percent of people in the same age group back in 2002. Alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and opiates were the most commonly abused drugs.
The numbers are staggering. To put it into perspective, the number of senior citizens is expected to jump from 40 million to 73 million in the next 20 years. The amount of people needing treatment would overload the nation’s mental health care system.
Diagnosing substance abuse with the elderly is difficult for two reasons. First, most doctors rarely ask elderly patients about whether they abuse alcohol or drugs. Secondly, the symptoms of substance abuse are sometimes mistaken for the normal aging process. When substance abuse is detected, many physicians underestimate an older patient’s inability to metabolize modest amounts of alcohol and the effect on their brain.
A 2011 study by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that 8.3 percent of older adults (65 and older) are binge drinkers. Binge drinking is defined as having four or five drinks in one sitting during at least one time in a month. The study also found two percent are heavy drinkers.
But alcohol isn’t the only drug abused by the elderly. Addiction to prescription drugs is rapidly growing. It has been estimated that 10 percent of seniors misuse prescriptions medication, including opiate painkillers, sleeping pills and anti-anxiety benzodiazepines. One alarming trend shows that 44 percent of elderly women abuse prescription medication compared to 23 percent of men.
But why do the elderly abuse drugs and alcohol? Unlike young people, most seniors don’t use drugs and alcohol to get high or buzzed. Instead, they turn to these substances to self-medicate from chronic physical pain, mental illness or to overcome the loss of loved ones. Psychoactive drugs are particularly problematic because they are extremely addictive and can affect a person’s cognitive skills and cause depression.
With a mental health crisis looming ahead among the elderly, there are serious questions whether the medical community can meet the demand. Christian Drug Detox Helpline Naperville, IL uses the latest methods of dual diagnosis to help seniors beat their addictions.