Opioid and alcohol addiction aren’t confined to home medicine or liquor cabinets. Age also doesn’t prevent this concerning health issue. In fact, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) found that “alcohol and prescription drug abuse affects up to 17% of adults over the age of 60.” So, what does addiction look like when it comes to your residents?
Categories of Addiction
Addiction to opioids and analgesics in seniors falls into two categories: hardy survivor and late onset. The hardy survivor has a history of alcohol or opioid addiction. Their reasons for addition could be any of the following:
- Exposure to alcohol and/or pills in their teen years
- Family history of alcohol and/or pill addiction
- Addiction due to an automotive or sports injury
Conversely, the late onset senior’s addition started later in their life. Late onset seniors turn to pills and alcohol for any of the following reasons:
- Dealing with the death of a loved one
- Dealing with the loss of a home or job
- Decline in mental or physical health
Amazingly, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) reports that “2.5 million ‘older adults’ suffer from an addiction to a substance. While people age 65 or older comprise only 13% of the U.S. population, they account for nearly 30% of prescriptions in the country.”
The Dangers of Addiction for Seniors
Let’s dig further into seniors and opioid addiction. It’s easy for your residents to get prescriptions for painkillers. After all, Medicare pays for them. But Medicare doesn’t pay for drug and alcohol treatment of those over the age of 65.
There are many reasons why addiction is so dangerous for seniors in our society. And many of these reasons aren’t addressed by their families or healthcare providers.
Symptoms of Seniors Struggling with Substance Abuse
When it comes to senior citizens and alcohol abuse, detection can be tricky. Senior alcohol abuse can result in symptoms associated with aging, such as dementia or depression. However, it’s the alcohol that’s the problem.
On the other hand, opioids are often prescribed to treat chronic pain and other conditions. Most residents of assisted living communities exhibit two or more chronic conditions, including the following:
- High cholesterol
Any of these conditions and the pain associated with them increases the risk of addiction to opioids because they ease discomfort. Unfortunately, seniors may have difficulty metabolizing these drugs, which means they often remain in their systems.
Helping Seniors Struggling with Addiction
Treatment for any type of addiction must start with an open, honest conversation between the resident, their family, and their physician.
The resident must also disclose all of the medications they’re currently taking to their physician. This helps their doctor determine whether the prescription dosage is appropriate.
If a senior has more than one chronic condition, it might be too overwhelming to completely stop taking pain medication. Instead, it might be better to reduce their dose to the lowest one possible and slowly wean them off of it.
Non-drug treatments could include yoga or tai chi, if appropriate for the resident. Additionally, drug support programs are available for any age group.