Danger of addiction in older adults

Photo by Marlon Lara

Substance abuse is an often neglected topic when it comes to older adults.

When we think of something like alcoholism, we might imagine a young individual participating in binge drinking in post-secondary institutions or while managing a high-stress job.

But substance dependency in older adults is a very real and negative truth. Whether it’s alcohol, prescription medication or marijuana, the Canadian Coalition for Seniors Mental Health has stated that “there is a need for increased awareness of substance abuse in older adults among health care providers.”

Substance abuse disorder is defined as the “problematic pattern of substance use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress,” and can involve cravings or strong urges to use a substance, a significant amount of time dedicated to obtaining them, or persistent and unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control one’s use.

Many individuals utilize substances to cope with situations or emotions that pain them. Potential triggers for substance abuse in older adults include social isolation, grief over the loss of a loved one, financial or familial issues and physical health problems, such as chronic illness or pain.

The use of prescription opioids to treat chronic pain or suffering following major surgery can also lead to substance abuse. Older adults are more likely to experience these kinds of issues and therefore are at higher risk.

There are various signs that indicate an individual may be suffering from substance use disorder. Physical signs include sudden changes in weight, slurred speech or increased talkativeness, change in pupil size or unexplained pains or bruises.

Psychological or behaviour signs can show up as irritability, loss of interest in previously enjoyed hobbies, anxiety, avoidance of friends of family and the frequent borrowing or stealing of money.

If you believe that an older adult you know is showing signs of substance abuse, it’s important to start a conversation. Speak gently and without judgement. If an individual denies that there is an issue, you may need to enlist the help of a doctor, therapist or other medical professional.

There are options in both inpatient and outpatient programs for substance abuse issues. In Calgary, there are organizations such as Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous. More information can be found at https://calgaryaa.org/.

Additionally, there is a program known as Self-Management and Recovery Training, or SMART. Those that have not found success previously in the Anonymous programs may do so with SMART.

More information about SMART and the available online meetings can be found at https://smartrecoveryalberta.org/.

Addiction is difficult to speak about, but it is more dangerous to be left alone. Help is available and out there for those who think they might require it.