They are currently 78 million baby boomers in America heading into retirement soon with their health, wealth, and education. Unfortunately, they are also bringing alcohol and drug abuse with them into their golden years.
Most people have a hard time believing that the elderly still deal with alcohol and drug abuse. It is commonly thought that only young people abuse drugs and alcohol. You must remember, though, that the baby boomers grew up in the 60s and 70s when experimenting with drugs was the norm. This alone makes them more susceptible to using illicit drugs. A study performed in 2011 found a 6.3% of adults between the ages of 50 and 59 used illicit drugs.
Other than alcohol, most commonly used among the elderly are marijuana, cocaine, and opiates.
It can be difficult to detect alcohol and drug abuse in the elderly because clinicians and family members are reluctant to ask them about it. Alcohol and drug abuse are not typically one of the first things that pop into your mind when you encounter an elderly person. Even when a physician realizes an elderly patient uses drugs or alcohol, they typically fail to realize that what they are doing can be problematic. Elderly patients are unable to metabolize substances as well as young people, and their brain is more sensitive to them. They are also more likely to have cognitive impairments that make it more difficult for them to self-monitor.
Many studies have shown that drinking that has become problematic among the elderly. In fact, a survey in 2011 reported that binge drinking was done by 8.3% of adults older than 65. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism points out the increased sensitivity to the effects of alcohol and drug abuse in the elderly and recommend that elderly patients drink no more than three drinks in a day, or seven drinks in a week.
Among the elderly, alcohol is abused more commonly than anything else. Prescription drug use is growing rapidly, though. A recent study estimated that around 10% of elderly patients’ misuse prescription drugs. When it comes to prescription medication misuse, women make up 44% of the users and men makeup 23%.
The typical reason for the elderly using drugs and alcohol after the age of 60 isn’t to get high. Instead, they are typically self-medicating to alleviate psychological and physical pain from psychiatric and mental illnesses, social isolation, or the loss of loved ones.
The psychoactive drugs the elderly are turning to are addictive and can interact dangerously with their other medications, increase their risk of falling, cause depression, and impair their cognitive functioning. Many of these patients live in isolation, making it harder to detect their alcohol and drug abuse.
The aging population is undoubtedly facing a major public mental health crisis. We at Coastline Behavioral Health are here to help the elderly, or anyone else, with alcohol and drug abuse. Give us a call today.