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Addiction Among Older Adults: A Growing Problem

Addiction Among Older Adults: A Growing Problem

More and more members of the baby boomer generation are reaching retirement age each year – by 2029, all members of this generation will be 65 years and older. In fact, experts project the number of older adults will increase to 72.1 million by 2030*. With the number of older adults in the United States rising, the number of them who are addicted to drugs and alcohol is increasing as well.

In the past, drug use among younger generations has been higher than among older adults. However, this statistic is changing due to shifting demographics. Why is this increase occurring and what can we do to prevent it?

Addiction Challenges And Risk Factors In Older Adults

Drug and alcohol addiction can have severe impacts on mental, physical, and social health. In addition, many older adults face additional challenges when dealing with addiction. This issue is a growing problem among older people for a number of reasons.

Shifting Demographics

With more people reaching retirement age each year, more people qualify for the “older adult” category than in years past. The baby boomer generation makes up approximately 30% of the United States’ population, a greater proportion than previous generations. As a result, a greater proportion of this demographic will exhibit addiction to drugs and alcohol than in previous years.

Greater Exposure To Drugs

Drug use saw its first major spikes in American society during the 1960s and 1970s. Many older adults spent their formative years during these decades. They experimented with drugs and alcohol when they were young adults and teenagers. As a result, previous exposure to drugs is translating to how older adults are coping with the changes of reaching retirement age.

The Stress Of Retirement

Since many older adults have experimented with drugs and alcohol, they know that these substances are available as coping mechanisms. Growing older comes with its own set of challenges and stressors – financial struggles, issues with work, chronic illnesses, etc. Stress is a major factor in drug and alcohol addiction and many older adults turn to these substances as a way to handle this stress.

The Culture Of Self-Reliance

Many members of the baby boomer generation grew up with a strong culture of self-reliance. While this mindset has produced hardworking individuals with strong work ethics, it can also make it difficult for older adults to ask for help. As a result, many older adults can turn to drugs to cope with pain, such as prescription opioids. In addition, they can struggle with asking for help with addiction when they need it.

This problem is not exclusive to the baby boomer generation. Adults aged 75 and older are part of a generation that associates drugs with shame and poor morals. As a result, these adults can find it very difficult to ask for help with addiction when they need it.

Fewer Responsibilities And Greater Isolation

Retirement changes a person’s life drastically. They go from having a steady job, children at home, and additional responsibilities to having very few responsibilities. Children grow up, leave home, and often move further away from their parents. As a result, older adults can suddenly find themselves alone with nothing to do.

This situation can lead to higher levels of depression, which can contribute to substance abuse. In addition, older adults do not have as many people around to identify the signs of addiction when they occur.

Changes In Memory

Many older people struggle with memory issues. They can forget that they’ve taken their medication and accidentally take a second dose. Repeat this action over several weeks, and the older adult can develop an addiction. Older adults may also forget not to take medication with alcohol or other substances, which can lead to adverse reactions.

How To Identify Warning Signs Of Addiction

Drug and alcohol addiction can cause significant issues to an older person’s physical, mental, and social health. If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of addiction, you should seek professional help as soon as possible.

You or a loved one may have an addiction to alcohol if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • You experience issues with personal relationships because of alcohol use.
  • You find yourself drinking to forget problems, deal with stress, or handle other difficulties.
  • You experience symptoms of irritability, insomnia, or anxiety.
  • You find yourself drinking more and more to feel the same effects.
  • You experience withdrawal symptoms after not drinking alcohol: insomnia, shakiness, nausea, seizures, hallucinations, restlessness, and sweating.
  • You stop participating in other activities that you used to enjoy.
  • Your alcohol use has led to problems with law enforcement, family, or work/school if applicable.
  • You spend most of your time drinking or recovering from hangovers.

Drug addiction can look much different from alcohol addiction. You or a loved one may have a drug addiction if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Your doctor prescribed a drug that you have continued to take after your health problem subsides.
  • You spend most of your time preoccupied with the drug, such as how to get more, when you’ll be able to take the drug, and the effects of the drug.
  • You experience withdrawal symptoms when you are not taking the drug: shakiness, depression, headaches, nausea, fevers, seizures, or confusion.
  • You’ve lost interest in old hobbies to take the drug.
  • You have gone into debt, stolen money, or borrowed money to purchase the drug.
  • You experience issues with family and friends due to drug use.


Know When To Seek Help

If you experience any of the symptoms of alcohol or drug abuse, the most important step to take is to seek professional help. Recovery centers are available to help you safely reduce your dependence on substances and help you develop healthy coping mechanisms to set yourself up for lifelong sobriety success.

Maryland Recovery can help. We provide comprehensive and holistic recovery services for people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction at our facility in Bel Air, Maryland. Contact us today to learn more about our programs and how to enroll.

  • "Maryland Recovery gave me the tools and counseling to accept my past and forge a new future for myself. Life today has a hope and brightness to it that had not experienced before. I got a job and an apartment with the help of Maryland Recovery. I am able to be part of my family’s life again."
  • "I am certain that this program helped save my life. I was provided with an opportunity to learn how to live a sober life. I learned to be responsible and accountable for my behavior. When practicing the principles of the program and remaining willing to grow on this journey, I experience a freedom I never knew, but always wanted."
  • "The only things that I knew when I arrived at Maryland Recovery (MR) was that I was broken: spiritually, emotionally, and physically broken and that my way of doing things had gotten me there. The people at MR understood who I was better than I did. They assured me that I was not alone, with that came a glimpse of hope and some relief."
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