Substance Abuse in the Elderly: Am I Too Old for Rehab?


Substance abuse is a leading cause of serious health complications and death across the globe. The public eye now recognizes that it’s a disease that needs professional care. Yet, most discussions of rehab and treatment revolve around younger generations.

Seniors and elders may not feel that their age group is welcome in treatment centers, or that perhaps their age should be a reason to evade seeking help. This is where drug and alcohol rehab for seniors proves this idea is wrong.

At Harmony Ridge Recovery, we go above and beyond to ensure that seniors and all others are welcome and treated with specialized care from our staff. Regardless of the duration of the addiction and age of the individual struggling with substance abuse, we have the knowledge, resources, and compassion to guide you to sobriety.

Rehab for Seniors: Why Does Substance Abuse Affect Seniors?


Substance abuse can affect anyone. There is no one type of person who struggles with addiction. In the case of elderly people struggling with addiction, there are many different avenues that could have led to it. Some triggers that may lead to addiction in seniors include:

  • Mental and physical health decline
  • Loss of a loved one
  • Retirement
  • Chronic pain
  • Financial difficulties
  • Stress

A lot of elderly people have struggled for many years and simply never sought help. Just like with younger people, senior citizens also experience feelings of shame, embarrassment, and fear around seeking help for their addiction.

When they do decide to seek help, it could stem from health complications or the general desire to improve their life. It could also come from their loved ones urging them to seek help so they can live life to the fullest.

When it comes to seeking help for addiction, it doesn’t matter how help is sought. It only matters that help is found, and the journey to sobriety can begin. It is never too late to recover.

Prescription Medications in Elderly

It’s not uncommon for seniors to become addicted to drugs through recreational use. However, many seniors can become addicted to substances for the first time in their lives at a later age after being prescribed painkillers.

This is common in cases such as surgeries, injuries, chronic pain, and long-term illnesses. Unfortunately, even if taken as prescribed, narcotics always have the chance of leading to addiction. In these cases, it’s better to seek help at the first signs of addiction.

It can be difficult to understand whether or not you’re experiencing signs of addiction, or if you need the medication due to pain. Talk to your provider about any concerns you may have, and it’s always better safe than sorry. Some signs of addiction to narcotics in the elderly include:

  • Wanting refills on medication before they are due
  • Taking more than the prescribed dose
  • Complaining about new pain that didn’t exist before the prescription of the medication

If you’re experiencing addiction to prescription medication, it’s important to seek treatment for yourself as soon as possible to avoid any more complications. Especially if your children or grandchildren have expressed concern.

Facts on Substance Abuse in the Elderly


Although most people associate substance abuse with younger generations, The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported in 2018 that nearly 1 million elderly people (65 and older) live with a substance abuse disorder (SUD). They projected that number to increase anywhere from three to seven percent each year.

Substance abuse affects everyone negatively, but seniors are at higher risks for health complications and declining health. Drug use negatively impacts mood, coordination, memory, judgment calls, and immunity. These are all things that are already risk factors for seniors. Drug use could worsen or accelerate these symptoms and lead to accidents.

 Some other risks include:

  • Heart Attack
  • Stroke
  • Confusion
  • Co-occurring conditions
  • Increased chance of bone fractures
  • Adverse drug reactions

Studies on substance abuse in the elderly have reported that accidents and psychological downfall are two main reasons for hospitalization in older individuals. Both of these risks are dramatically increased when drugs or alcohol are at play. So while elderly people may struggle with the idea of seeking help, they’re also some of the more vulnerable of populations.

As you age, your brain and body process substances at a much lower rate. This means that the aging brain is more vulnerable and the body’s slowed metabolism can increase sensitivity to substances. The body becomes more easily addicted to a substance and elderly people may find it harder to resist using it once they start. This is why it’s unsafe to prescribe narcotics unless they’re truly needed.

Narcotics aren’t the only drugs that seniors have been found to be addicted to. Others include cocaine, alcohol, fentanyl, and stimulants. These are recreational use drugs with serious health implications when abused.

Symptoms of Substance Abuse in the Elderly


Sometimes seniors don’t realize that they have become addicted to drugs or alcohol. They could also feel hesitant to admit it over the fear of judgment or unwillingness to seek help. In many cases, seniors have been addicted to drugs or alcohol for years. They just never labeled it as a problem.

Eventually, when the addiction starts to interfere with daily life, seeking help is inevitable. If you are concerned for a loved one and their potential of struggling with substance abuse, some common signs of addiction to consider for seniors include:

  • New memory problems
  • Sleep issues or insomnia
  • Irritability, depression, or habitual sadness
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or community
  • Declining hygiene
  • Isolation
  • New chronic pain
  • Changes In appearance

These symptoms don’t always correspond with drug addiction, but it’s important to talk to your loved one if you recognize these signs in them. Elderly people tend to have more health problems and take more medications that come with side effects. Communication between them and someone they trust is the key to avoiding addiction or addressing a developing one. Sometimes, an open conversation can be the determining factor in whether or not an elderly loved one decides to seek help.

Treatment At a Drug and Alcohol Rehab for Seniors


A drug and alcohol rehab for seniors should look relatively similar to that of any other individuals program. A comprehensive intake will be taken and looked over. This ensures all aspects of the person’s health, history, addiction, and life experience is taken into consideration.

Treatment will begin with a full detox to rid the body of any drugs, alcohol, or related toxins. From there, depending on the addiction, seniors will be advised to attend either an inpatient or outpatient recovery program to ensure their sobriety is maintained.

Some things to take into consideration when building a treatment program for seniors include:

  • Their overall health and wellbeing aside from drug use. Consider heart health, mobility, and mental health.
  • Age-related addiction aspects. Consider interacting medications, prescribed medications, and family situations.
  • Their willingness to receive help. It’s important to discuss with seniors the stigma around treatment and make sure they feel welcomed. It’s also important to make sure they feel comfortable in a facility with younger individuals.
  • Their support system. Talking with seniors about their family life and getting an idea of who they have in their life to support them is important. If they do not have a stable support system, it’s crucial to give them access to other resources like support groups, therapists, etc.

Finding Treatment For Seniors With a Substance Abuse Disorder


When looking for a treatment center, it’s important to find a facility that offers services that align with your lifestyle. Some seniors will do better with an in-house residential center. Others, such as those who still work or look after their family, may want to consider an outpatient rehab.

Be sure that the treatment center you choose approaches substance abuse treatment comprehensively. A drug and alcohol rehab for seniors should include detox, an extended program after detox is complete, and a combination of mental and physical health care.

You will also want to make sure your treatment center has the amenities you desire. Group therapy, one-on-one therapy, holistic nutrition, and alternative therapy should all be included. If the environment is important to you, make sure the facility grounds are somewhere you would feel comfortable. Taking all things into consideration when choosing a center will ensure you feel confident in your decision to get help.

Substance Abuse Treatment for Seniors at Harmony Ridge


Harmony Ridge Recovery Center has been awarded the nationally recognized Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval. We know through our experience of helping people overcome their addiction that there is no one-size-fits-all for addiction treatment. It’s important to address each client individually on their mental, physical, and spiritual needs.

An alcohol or substance use disorder affects seniors in the same way as everyone else. Seniors should know that they’re safe and welcome at Harmony Ridge. Our dedicated staff has experience and passion in helping those struggling with addiction overcome all aspects of the disease. We are excited to help guide you on your journey to sobriety. For more information, contact us anytime.


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