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Addiction Among Seniors Expected To Rise

Written by Eliza Player on Wednesday, 18 April 2012. Posted in Breaking News, From Professionals

Addiction In Seniors

According to a recent report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the number of Americans age 50 or older needing substance abuse treatment is expected to double from 2.8 million to 5.7 million by 2020. According to, drugs used for pain relief, anxiety, or insomnia were involved in almost a fourth of adverse drug reactions among older Americans.

People over the age of 50 often take medications, for legitimate pain or other health issues. They are often prescribed medications that have a high potential for abuse. According to Chris Hobbes, residential services manager at South Miami Hospital's Addiction Treatment Center, "Oxycontin is the number one problematic drug right now. But also, older people tend to deal with more feelings of loneliness and sadness and are prescribed anxiety and anti-depressants that can be abused as well." For about 80% of the population, prescribing these potentially addictive medications is the best treatment, but the other 20-25% have a risk for dependency.

Maria was a high school librarian, who had never had a sip of alcohol at age 63, and the thought of addiction never even crossed her mind. For many older Americans who find themselves addicted to the prescription medication that is legally prescribed for them, this is often the case. Addiction does not cross their minds, and they are often unaware of the potential for addiction with medications prescribed by a doctor. Furthermore, both doctors and patients may often not recognize the signs of addiction. Addiction to prescription medication is becoming a growing problem, and educating people about the dangers of legally prescribed medications is vital. Maria believed her prescription medicine, Xanax, prescribed for her anxiety was just as safe as her blood pressure medication, and she did not see the warning signs of addiction as it began to permeate her life.

Maria did not start taking Xanax until she was 40 years old, and she experienced a 'nervous breakdown', dealing with a very emotional and stressful family situation. After taking the drug for a while, Maria began to break the pill up, taking little bits throughout the day, until taking a larger dose to help her sleep at night. She decided to cut back a little, but she realized the side effects were unbearable.

She moved to Miami to be closer to her children, and she started taking the drug heavily again. She was lonely, and she did not have any friends in a new place. She simply told her doctor she had been given the drug previously, and he wrote her a prescription. Before long, she was doctor shopping for multiple prescriptions.

One weekend Maria took more Xanax than usual. She said, "I had a brand new bottle, so I started taking it and then everything was a blur. The thing is with Xanax, you forget. I couldn't remember if I had taken it or not so I just kept taking it." Maria then slept from friday until Monday, and called into work Tuesday and Wednesday because she could not get out of bed. When she finally went downstairs, Wednesday afternoon, her entire family was waiting for her. They told her, "That's it, we're going to the hospital."

Maria was detoxed in South Miami Hospital and enrolled in an outpatient program where she attends daily group therapy sessions. Maria is finally learning about addiction. Not enough doctors or patients are educated enough about addiction, especially in relation to prescription medication.

Older Americans have various factors making them more susceptible to addiction. First of all, many of them take these addictive medications because they need them. By the time we are over 50, pain is a common hinderance. Also, many older Americans have some sort of cash flow. Many of them have worked most of their lives, saving for retirement. Now that they have reached retirement, they have more money and also more free time. Also, as we get older, our children get more and more busy and our friends become less and less active.

It is easier for retired people, also older people, to feel lonely and depressed. They are not as busy as they used to be, and it can be emotional to get older and less active. Furthermore, people are not educated enough about the potentially addictive side effects of pain-killers and anti-anxiety medications, so they do not recognize the signs, and it seems their addiction just creeps up on them. If you know a senior who is struggling with any kind of addiction, visit, for more information and help.

About the Author

Eliza Player

Eliza Player

I have been writing as long as I can remember, even carrying tattered notebooks with me through the streets and strip clubs of New Orleans, in the midst of my heroin addiction. I lived a life saturated in heroin until Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, leaving me to fend for myself, eventually facing my demons and coming face to face with my addiction. I have been clean for five years, and since then I have become a mother, graduated college, and started a writing career. I have a B.A. in Mass Media Communication, with a minor in Journalism. I have also written one published book, Through Both Hell and High Water: A Memoir of Addiction and Hurricane Katrina, which tells the story of those dark days I spent in New Orleans after the storm, battling with addiction amidst a natural disaster. I am the blogger and news curator for RecoveryNowTV, and I love sharing the stories of the world, as well as my own personal journey, with my readers. I hope that my words can touch others out there, struggling with addiction.

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