Substance abuse among our older generations is rising. Although the numbers are much lower than younger people, they are still on the rise. There are different reasons for this. Sometimes, it can land on the children and adult children to care for the parent or grandparent. As the baby boomer generation gets ready to retire, we are likely to see substance abuse numbers spike.
Why Being Older Makes Things Different
Getting older means the body is changing, again. Some systems just get naturally weaker. Parts of the brain begin to slow down. This can possibly lead to a certain vulnerability to substance misuse for older adults. Sometimes, intentionally and unintentionally. Not much is really known about how drugs and alcohol affect the aging brain. We do know that the older you get the slower your body will metabolize substances and the brain becomes more sensitive to drugs. Older adults are more likely to have mood disorders, heart problems, memory issues, and other organ issues.
There are certain factors that need to be taken into account when looking at addiction with older adults. There are different contributors that need to be taken into consideration. Any health problems that have them taking prescription medications may lead to an addiction. The emotional toll that life-changing events may have. The New York Times reports that illicit drug use among adults between ages 50 and 59 rose from 2.7 percent to 6.3 percent from 2002 to 2011. The number of adults reaching elderly age is expected to rise from 40 million to 73 million from 2010 to 2030. Life expectancy has risen over the years, meaning that the elderly population is growing as well.
Who Gets Hurt
The Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services says, substance abuse among senior citizens can be classified into two general forms: the “hardy survivor,” or those who have been abusing substances for many years and have reached 65, and the “late onset” group, which is those who form addictions later in life.
One of the issues with older adults actively using are some of them cannot live on their own. Some medical issues can leave them unable to properly care for themselves. That puts strain on the families. Another issue is that any health problems need to be treated. Drugs can worsen these conditions, exacerbating the negative health consequences of substance use. Additionally, the effects of some drugs, like impaired judgment, coordination, or reaction time, can result in accidents, such as falls and motor vehicle crashes. Just as any addiction does, the suffering of this age group hurts everyone around them.
There is Help
It may be harder to identify an addiction in an older adult, but it does happen. Self-medicating is a direct line to addiction. There is no dignity in dying the slow death of addiction. Seeing a parent fall from the image you have had your whole life is life-changing. The emotional toll of burying a parent is heavy, but watching a substance steal what time you may have left is horrible. The baby boomer generation (those born between 1946 and 1964) are getting to retirement age. The drug-experimenting and accepting culture they grew up in may lead to a spike in the numbers of our older adults and substance abuse. There is help. If you are trying to avoid an addiction here are two tips.
- Staying in close contact with family can help.
- Be aware of the medications they take.
As our parents and grandparents age, we just want them to be happy. If your family member or friend is already in the thick of it- reach out. There are places that can properly care for people with medical conditions and an addiction. It is well worth the phone call.