Over 78 million aging baby boomers in America are slowly going into retirement and bringing their mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse epidemic with them. The idea that the elderly may be addicted to alcohol or abusing illicit drugs seems improbable to many. This is because most people think substance abuse and alcoholism is for young people, however, this is far from the truth. Baby boomers who transitioned from childhood to adulthood in the 60’s and 70’s are much more likely to use illicit drugs than other generations. A study done by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration done in 2011 revealed that the rate of current illicit drug use among adults between the age of 50 and 59 years old rose to 6.3% in 2011 from 2.7% in 2002.
Besides alcohol, the drugs that were most commonly abused included cocaine, marijuana and opiates. Detecting alcohol or drug issues in the elderly is hard because family members and medical professionals are more reluctant to question them about it. Abusing drugs is one of the last things that physicians think about when they are in contact with an elderly patient. Even in the case that a connection is made, doctors sometimes still fail to come to the realization that even moderate use of drugs and alcohol can pose health risks. Elderly patients do not metabolize substances as well as younger folks and also have brains that are more sensitive to them.
A large number of surveys have documented problems that drinking can pose to the elderly. In 2011 for example, a National Survey on Drug Use and Health discovered that 8.3% of adults who are 65 years of age and above reported that they are binge drinkers. This is based on the fact that they claimed to have consumed five drinks or more in one sitting at least one time during the previous month, but the percent of heavy drinking stood at 2%. Since the harmful effects of alcohol are intensified given the increased sensitivity of the brain associated with aging, the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends that women and men 65 years or above have no more than three drinks on any given day.
They also recommend no more than seven drinks per week for the elderly. Even though alcohol is apparently the drug that is abused the most among the elderly, recreational use of prescription painkillers is also a thread that is growing rapidly.
Cindy Nichols is the founder of 411 Intervention, a full-service intervention resource that helps individuals with addiction issues find treatment solutions. You can see an interview with Cindy here on Recovery Now TV.