Alcohol and Drug Addiction Treatment for Older Adults

Older adults, the elderly, old, aged, even middle-age, are terms with flexible definitions, which have changed over the years.

As far back as 1875, in Britain, the Friendly Societies Act, enacted the definition of old age as, any age after 50, yet pension schemes mostly used age 60 or 65 years for eligibility... The UN has not adopted a standard criterion, but generally use 60+ years to refer to the older population.1

Older Clients in Substance Addiction Treatment Rehab

There are many issues in common for people of all ages, men and women, regarding substance dependence. Nevertheless a focused and individualized programme must take into account the impact of age on substance use, treatment, and on-going recovery. For people 60+ years old, there are specific issues around aging which have important health impacts, especially regarding alcohol and drug misuse, abuse, and dependence. For some, these issues can begin a decade earlier at 50+ years of age. Serenity Rehab has successfully treated clients from 18 to 79 years old, and we understand and can help our older clients with a recovery programme that works.

Alcohol Problems and the Elderly

Older people face two issues regarding alcohol. First, the body's ability to process alcohol weakens significantly, including a higher sensitivity to alcohol due to a decrease in the amount of body water.

Second, if a person is already a steady or heavy drinker, long-term effects can include increased risk:

  • Lead to some kinds of cancer, liver damage, immune system disorders, and brain damage
  • Worsen some health conditions like osteoporosis, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, ulcers, memory loss and mood disorders
  • Make some medical problems hard for doctors to find and treat—for example, alcohol causes changes in the heart and blood vessels. These changes can dull pain that might be a warning sign of a heart attack.
  • Cause some older people to be forgetful and confused—these symptoms could be mistaken for signs of Alzheimer's disease.2
  • Hip fractures increase with alcohol consumption.
  • Interaction effects between alcohol and prescription medication can cause additional side effects or make medication less effective.
  • Alcohol can also accelerate normal aging and cause premature aging of the brain. The frontal lobes of the brain are especially vulnerable to long-term heavy drinking. Research shows that shrinkage of the frontal lobes increases with alcohol consumption and is associated with intellectual impairment in both older and younger subjects with alcoholism. In addition, older persons with alcoholism are less likely to recover from cognitive deficits during abstinence than are younger persons with alcoholism.[^nih-alcohol-aging]

Late Onset Alcohol and Drug Use Disorder

The elderly are more at risk for both alcohol and drug use disorders that begin later in life for them. For many, there had been little or no previous substance misuse or problems3:

  • The elderly are by far the largest consumers of prescription medication (more than twice the rate of younger age groups), which have a risk for abuse.4
  • Depressive disorders are more common among the elderly than among younger people and tend to co-occur with alcohol misuse.[^nih-alcohol-aging]

About 1/3 of the elderly who suffer from alcohol use disorder did not have a problem previously, but instead are more affluent, include more women, and are likely to begin their alcohol use after a stressful event, such as retirement, loss of a spouse, job, or home.5

Baby Boomer Generation At Risk

The baby boomer generation has different attitudes and behaviors toward alcohol (and drugs) than previous generations, and is therefore at higher risk for use disorders.6

Self-Report Survey for Substance Use Disorders

This well-established screening questionnaire helps identify substance use problems.

  1. Have you ever felt you ought to cut down on your drinking or drug use?
  2. Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking or drug use?
  3. Have you felt bad or guilty about your drinking or drug use?
  4. Have you ever had a drink or used drugs first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover (eye-opener)?

A score of 2 is considered clinically significant (high likelihood of use disorder).7

Substance Treatment for Older Adults at Serenity Rehab

If you or someone you love has a problem with drinking or drug use and needs help, contact us at Serenity. We understand and have a treatment programme that works.