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Addiction is an invisible epidemic among people aged 65 and up. In this demographic, addiction is often underdiagnosed or not mentioned at all by health care professionals, and this silence poses a huge obstacle to older adults getting the help they need.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), alcohol and prescription drug abuse affects the lives of nearly one million adults over the age of 60.

What Causes Addiction in Older Adults?

Discovering that someone’s drug or alcohol use is out of control is shocking, particularly when it surfaces later in life or is a sign of an underlying disorder. Addiction in older adults is sometimes the progression of a lifelong or long-term struggle with substances, though other times it can be the result of a late onset of experimentation or self-medication. In the latter case, you may wonder what has changed to provoke this.

Changing circumstances can increase the risk of someone developing an addiction in later life. While these may mirror the triggers for addiction in younger adults, there are also issues unique to aging that may result in the onset of illicit drug use or addiction. Some stressful life factors to consider include:

  • Retirement
  • Divorce or relationship breakdown
  • Loss of income
  • Financial strain
  • Death of loved ones
  • Placement in a nursing home
  • Declining health or independence
  • Sleeping problems
  • Mental or physical health problems

Aging can be accompanied by a multitude of challenges to mental and physical health, and under these conditions, a person may turn to a substance to cope. On the other hand, older adults may receive more prescription medication that can be misused. However, regardless of why compulsive substance abuse began, it is still possible to reclaim your life from addiction, no matter your age.

Treatment Options

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), the following treatments are effective modalities for older adults seeking to recover from substance use disorders:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Group therapy
  • Individual counseling
  • Psychiatric medical approaches
  • Family therapy or involvement
  • Community-linked services and outreach

People in recovery seem to be better suited in treatment programs where they are healing alongside peers who experience similar life circumstances to their own. While there are mixed-age residential and outpatient programs that people from all walks of life can benefit from, you may want to consider looking into one of the many treatment programs specialized in the care of older adults.

Research and common sense suggest that it is easier to open up in group therapy and step work with others who can more fully understand the foundations of our experience. Moreover, much of the recovery process involves getting at the underlying reasons for substance abuse – reasons that tend to change as we grow older.

Medical Detox

Supervised medical detox, either with or without the aid of medication to ease withdrawal symptoms, is a necessary option for many people who enter addiction treatment. The medical detox process is safe, but when an individual has been prescribed prescription medication they cannot stop using for health reasons, it can be slightly more complicated. Treatment centers that are focused on the care of older adults through the recovery process are accustomed to the needs of the demographic they serve and can provide the most experienced medical advice appropriate to this context.

Inpatient or Intensive Outpatient Treatment Options

The question of an inpatient or intensive outpatient facility is an important consideration for everyone going into treatment.

Inpatient programs are well adapted to treating older clients and can offer comfortable stays with round-the-clock care and supervision, though you may find that an outpatient option better suits your specific requirements. Whether you choose a residential or an intensive outpatient facility, it is important to look for a care program that involves the synchronized expertise of a medical and mental health team who are aware of the specific issues older clients face.

Relapse Prevention

Older adults across the nation have built powerful networks of peer support through the 12-step program. Once you graduate from treatment, many local areas will offer support groups or community-centered programs that provide strong peer support networks that help each other through challenges that face older individuals.

It is strongly recommended that friends and family members engage in therapy or recovery support training while their loved one is still in treatment. When people return to an encouraging support system, it greatly improves their long-term recovery, mental and emotional states, and chances of success.


Our former clients say it best...

Dr. Stone, I am so grateful to your program and also your generosity. I was a hopeless addictwho believed there was no way of getting clean. Thanks to my sister and Cornerstone staff, I recently took my 90 day chip in N.A. Thanks, my life has been changed.
~ Isaac C.

“This was the best foundation I could have asked for to be sober. My case manager was the Best!! She showed me your life can be exciting and sober.”
~ Tina H.

It is the truly caring staff that makes Cornerstone the best rehab I have been to. The best part was finally getting my depression medications right, after many others tried for 2 years.
~ Jim V.

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