Addiction doesn't discriminate.
As a growing number of the population begins to enter retirement age, the need for treatment is growing too. Every year 10,000 baby boomers are hitting retirement age and the younger members of their generation are quickly getting older as well. As a generation born out of the 60s and 70s and 80s, it should come as no surprise that many of them are now finding themselves with habits that they are unable to control or in their later years have started habits that have become detrimental to their future health. Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance among older adults, but other drugs are often involved.
Risk factors of addiction for older Americans include:
- Medical conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure, or dementia
- Increased sensitivity to medication and slower drug metabolism due to age
- Using psychoactive medications for long periods of time
- Taking multiple prescription drugs at the same time
- Drinking alcohol in combination with prescription drugs
- Chronic pain, including pain after repeated surgical procedures
- Cognitive decline, sleep, depression, or anxiety disorders
- Being physically disabled or with reduced mobility
- Misdiagnosis by health care professionals
- Having a tendency to self-medicate and an avoidance coping style
- Being in a life transition, such as early retirement, bereavement, or relocation
Addiction Treatment Options for 40+
In engaging older adults in substance abuse treatment, it’s important to understand that older adults who do not have a history of lifelong, hard-core addiction are usually reluctant to be associated with what are stereotypically known as down-and-out alcoholics or drug addicts. They need to be understood and treated in contexts that are more comfortable for them and more relevant to their life experiences.
Addiction treatment for the 40+ crowd usually includes a focus on:
- age-specific addiction issues related to physical health, mental acuity, career, family structure, financial security, and more
- health and wellness concerns such as medication management, chronic pain, nutrition, sexual health, and more
- the importance of rediscovering purpose and meaning in life
- the stigma of addiction and the impact of shame on recovery
Just as with younger individuals, inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment for older adults needs to be flexible and individualized based on their unique needs. Some of the elder-specific treatment strategies and considerations include:
- Providing both individual and group therapy to reduce isolation and shame associated with drug or alcohol abuse.
- Offering both integrations with the younger population in addiction treatment centers, as well as age-specific groups that can help older adults open up more readily during therapy.
- Using supportive therapy models (STMs) that are less confrontational are more readily accepted by older adults, who may feel disrespected by aggressive approaches during addiction treatment.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which works to change the sequences of thought, emotion, and action that lead to the addictive behaviors being treated. CBT is highly structured and has been shown to be helpful for older adults who may have memory challenges.
- Creating a comprehensive and complete treatment plan tends to produce better outcomes than not adapting treatment programs for seniors’ specific needs.
- Self-help groups can reduce isolation and feelings of shame, but some older adults may feel inhibited about participating fully in a setting that focuses primarily on the challenges faced by younger individuals.
You may be one of the older adults struggling silently with addiction and, if so, reaching out to a well-respected addiction treatment center will open the door to the resources you need to fully recover. Having dealt with a lifetime of challenges, your rich history and past medical or life challenges do not need to be overwhelming when the right tools are available to help.