In recent years, there has been evidence in increasing substance abuse among older adults. The perception of an older person today is not what it used to be. For instance, in 2016, the elderly are associated with those 50 and older including many in the Baby Boom generation and the definition of “aging” is defined in a whole new light.
Data from 2009 revealed a high increase in illegal drug use and prescription drugs . These prescription drugs may have been used for reasons or in amounts not intended by the prescribing doctor. It is alarming to add that these aged individuals also represent the highest segment of inpatient admissions for cocaine, marijuana, and stimulant abuse.
The United States is observably not the only country experiencing such a problem. In the UK, statistics indicated that “alcohol-related death rates amongst older people are higher than in other age groups.” The figures provided expressed that the number of deaths, due to alcohol-related issues among older people in the United Kingdom, increased by a shocking rate of over 50 percent within the past 20 years. An astounding figure such as this speaks to, not only the increase in the older populous but also a populous that is having difficulties with changes in alcohol consumption patterns overall.
The United States is not any better. Alcohol misuse and abuse is the number one substance abuse problem among the older adult population. Alcohol is connected to many long-term illnesses such as stroke, hypertension, heart problems, cancer, and of course, liver damage. (It is important to note that, many of these illnesses tend to worsen as the individual ages, even if they cease alcohol consumption.)
To be honest, society is not used to viewing the elderly as substance abusers. In addition, doctors are less likely to diagnose the cause of an elderly person’s death or accidental fall to be related to drug or alcohol abuse. Frankly, as the baby boomers reach the age of 50 and over, the “norms of society” need to be redefined, concerning this group.
There are many reasons why the elderly and aging look to alcohol or substance use. Mourning and grief are among the top areas of concern. Turning to drugs or alcohol can be appealing for the elderly in situations where they have lost long-time friends and family members to death. In general, however, as the population overall is living longer, the aging population deals with distinct issues that are often unnoticed and overlooked.
Aging brings on the inevitable experience of losing loved ones. Aging also brings on illnesses. Added to that are feelings of loneliness, economic uncertainty, retirement and divorce.
Researchers have categorized three different types of aging drinkers. The first type is categorized as early onset drinkers. This category contains individuals who are known to have long-standing problems with alcohol abuse and misuse. They may experience illnesses associated with chronic alcohol overconsumption.
The next category contains the late-onset drinkers. These people are known to start drinking later on in life. Their drinking may be a result of their response to distinct traumatic events, like illness, loneliness or death of a loved one.
The final category is the intermittent users. Though these individuals may only use alcohol occasionally, they do so in excess and this can result in illnesses or health related problems such as gastrointestinal problems, falls, and negative interactions with prescribed medications. For these drinkers, the amplified effects of drinking, as the body ages, may come as an unwelcome, life-changing surprise.
One may think that drinking every now and then is harmless but in fact, the body’s ability to process alcohol effectively decreases as we age. The body water to fat ratio decreases and as a result and there is not enough water in the body to dilute the alcohol consumed. In addition, decreased blood flow to the liver, which breaks down alcohol, is common among the aging population, therefore, weakening the liver and increasing the amount of alcohol in the blood from the digestive system.
Furthermore, for the elderly, alcohol has a greater effect on brain functionality than in younger people. Older people may experience greater impairment in coordination and memory that may lead to injury by accident, self-neglect, hypothermia and incontinence.
A loss of social support, a weakening of the body’s ability to tolerate stress in general, loneliness, economic hardship and the effects of alcohol in particular—are all reasons why the recovery and medical communities should examine the dangers faced by older, at-risk persons. Moreover, they should seek to deepen their understanding of the specific needs of this age group in order to prevent a greater, detrimental problem that can be, more costly, both physically and emotionally in the future.Back to Blog