Older Adults and Substance Abuse

For years, alcoholism and addiction were bad words and there was a lot of stigma surrounding them. It was believed that alcoholics and addicts were weak-willed, immoral people who could quit ‘only if they tried hard enough’. Unfortunately, even today some religious groups consider chemically dependent people as sinful and shameful people. This doesn't mean that the harm caused by people who do drugs is justified. Betraying a spouse, neglecting children, causing fights or committing crimes- it is understandable that society would condemn this behaviour. But it’s important to understand that the problematic behaviour is a symptom of chemical dependency, which is an illness.

What is alcoholism or chemical dependency?

Alcoholism or dependency on chemicals is a condition where an individual becomes addicted to a mood altering substance. This may be alcohol abuse, drug abuse or any kind of substance abuse. It may even be a combination. According to the disease concept of drug addiction, which is in contrast to the moral weak weakness concept, medical professionals, psychologists and even the clergy believe that alcoholism and drug addiction is a disease, just like cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Further, if left untreated, it is also a progressive disease. Fortunately for millions of people suffering from this disease, it is a treatable disease.

Older adults and chemical dependency

It is important to understand and recognize that alcoholism (or drug addiction) not only affects adolescents, young adults or middle aged adults but also affects older adults. It is estimated that up to 20 percent of population of older adults may be addicted. It isn't surprising that this alcoholism is harder to detect in older adults. They may not be holding a job or be in a family position where others are around to acknowledge the problem. Further, after years of being together, the spouse may in fact deny the substance abuse problems which are being faced. Children may have grown up and gone away to build families of their own, and there may be no one around to notice the problem. As the human body ages, less alcohol and other substances are needed to create a feeling of intoxication. Thus, concerned others may be misled into thinking that because the person’s drug and alcohol abuse is minimal, the problem has been reduced or is non-existent.

The values of the older generation lay great emphasis on holding up a strong front and ‘looking good’. Further, men and women have had strongly defined roles to play. In treatment, you will have a chance to re-examine these beliefs and how they relate to one’s life. One of the most common things older adults face is loss. There are losses when it comes to ailing friends, children who have gone away, maybe a spouse; or one’s own physical and mental health- changes in hearing and vision, you may not be able to cope as well as you used to. In these changing circumstances it is common to turn to substance abuse as a means of quick relief. Late-onset alcoholism is experienced by older adults who have never had a history of substance abuse. This is a dependency that develops late in life but is hard to recognize as friends and family may view it as a temporary phase.

Then there may be clear warning signs that the person is having a substance abuse problem. Forgetfulness, confusion, changes in sleep, tripping, falling and having more accidents than usual. Other, more serious problems like suicide attempts, depression and isolation from family and friends indicates that all is not well and the person may be indulging in substance abuse.

It may be difficult to admit that one is an alcoholic or substance abuser, especially if one comes from an older generation where an older school of thought regarded it as a moral weakness. If your image of an alcoholic is of a delinquent skid row then it may make it harder to accept your own alcoholism or addiction. Shame also often accompanies such a transition. However, participation in treatment at a rehab, psycho-education and understanding the disease of addiction and the process of treatment often helps. Recovery is a process and you will be able to leave behind a lot of the problems associated with drinking and other drug use and also feel more clear-headed, have more energy and more in charge of your life- whatever be your age. Treatment at a rehabilitation centre offers a new beginning for everyone.

Hope Trust rehab in India gets persons of all ages, including seniors who are struggling with an addiction issue.

The rehab has vast experience with clients from all over the world. The integrated treatment model is broadly based on the 12 Steps and incorporates CBT, meditation, Yoga, group and individual therapies. With over 13 years experience in the field, the recovery method is proven and effective.