Substance Abuse Among Older Adults PMC

Previously, Medicare offered a partial hospitalization benefit (PHP), for patients who need at least 20 hours of therapy and other mental health and substance use disorder services in a week instead of requiring inpatient hospitalization. CMS announced that over 400,000 marriage and family therapists and mental health counselors can provide services to people on Medicare and get paid directly. “Medicare pays for the treatment of alcoholism and substance use disorders in both inpatient and outpatient settings, when medically necessary,” says Meredith Freed, Senior Policy Analyst for Medicare Policy at KFF. They offer a safe and comfortable space to talk freely and openly about one’s experiences. They can provide an opportunity for older adults to connect with peers who have gone through similar struggles, providing a forum to share advice and strategies that have proven successful in managing their addiction.

The figure was more than twice as high as the rate among older Hispanic Americans. Deaths due to substance abuse, particularly of alcohol and opioids, rose sharply among older Americans in 2020, the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, as lockdowns disrupted routines and isolation and fear spread, federal health researchers reported on Wednesday. Family, friends, and doctors often don’t know when older people have a problem with alcohol and drugs.

Treatment Is the Best Path

Older adults may be more likely to experience mood disorders, lung and heart problems, or memory issues. Drugs can worsen these conditions, exacerbating the negative health consequences of substance use. Additionally, the effects of some drugs—like substance abuse in older adults impaired judgment, coordination, or reaction time—can result in accidents, such as falls and motor vehicle crashes. These sorts of injuries can pose a greater risk to health than in younger adults and coincide with a possible longer recovery time.

  • Substance abuse, especially of alcohol and prescription drugs, for adults 60 and over is a fast-growing health problem in the U.S.
  • He responds by going on while they are in the examination room to look at how the compound can negatively interact with medications commonly used among older patients, such as blood thinners, antidepressants and seizure medication.
  • Let them know they should always turn to their loved ones and a doctor if they feel like they’ve become dependent on a particular medicine or other substance.

Alcohol and opioid deaths remained far less common among older people than among those middled-aged and younger, and rates had been rising in all groups for years. But the pronounced uptick — another data point in the long list of pandemic miseries — surprised government researchers. To help head off this path to addiction, family members and caregivers need to know if their older adult is getting needed social services, is connected to a nearby senior care center, has in-home care or social worker support if needed, and has other social supports in place. Use of illegal drugs like cocaine and heroin (and marijuana, in some states) is much lower in people 50 and up than in younger people. It’s especially dangerous because their bodies don’t process drugs as quickly as when they were younger. Memory impairment caused by cannabis can be especially detrimental for people with cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Additional Resources Serving Older Adults

NSDUH is an annual survey that collects data by administering questionnaires to a representative sample of the population through face-to-face interviews at their place of residence. The combined 2007 and 2014 past year use data for this report are based on information obtained from 23,300 adults aged 65 or older. Combined 2007 to 2014 NSDUH data indicate that, on an average day, 6.0 million older adults used alcohol (Figure 1).5 Older adults who used alcohol in the past month drank an average of 1.8 drinks per day on the days they drank.

  • Unfortunately, chronic pain can also increase older adults’ risks of developing substance misuse issues.
  • Aging baby boomers — the Woodstock generation — had more exposure to alcohol and drugs than previous generations, who viewed the use of such substances as a moral weakness and were much less familiar with marijuana, Dr. Blow said.
  • If they are taking several prescription drugs for different health conditions at once, it would be very helpful to write down the doses and administration times in big letters on a sheet and put it up where they will see it, like on the fridge.

This tool has many of the advantages of the CAGE, such as ease of administration and low cost. Although useful as an indicator of lifetime problem use, it lacks information about frequency, quantity, and current problems important for intervention. Provides information about the scope of substance use in older adults, the risk factors for substance use disorders in… More middle-aged and older adults are misusing alcohol, opioids, heroin, and marijuana. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported in 2019 that rates of substance use had climbed in adults between 50 and 64 years old and in those 65 years and older in the previous decade. It’s been called the “invisible epidemic.”  But knowing what to look out for can help you protect yourself or a loved one.

CAGE-Adapted to Include Drugs (CAGE-AID)

For example, some people with alcohol use disorders may occasionally binge drink, while others drink daily. Lehmann hopes further research on older adults with substance use disorders will lead to better-targeted screening methods and new models of care. Your loved one may be referred to one of the many drug treatment programs designed specifically for seniors. Treatment often includes age-specific addiction support groups that allow seniors to motivate their peers and receive support from other individuals struggling with similar disorders and hardships. The body’s ability to break down alcohol is also decreased with aging, causing alcohol to remain in a person’s system longer.7 This leads to older people feeling increased central nervous system effects from lower amounts of alcohol. For this reason, seniors who consume alcohol are at an increased risk for accidents, including falls, fractures, and car crashes.

  • Additionally, many older adults are dealing with chronic physical or mental health issues that substance use disorders can exacerbate.
  • It can be challenging for seniors to remember when and how much of each of their medications to take, especially when their minds are fuzzy and they take multiple drugs for relatively long periods.
  • Older adults have lower prevalence of substance use than younger adults, which may lead clinicians to think that older adults do not use psychoactive substances or develop SUD.

Many facilities that offer rehab services tailor their programs to younger populations. Older patients have different needs and may be uncomfortable receiving treatment with people who are only as old as their children or grandchildren. Physiological changes that occur with aging leave older adults more vulnerable to the ill effects of alcohol and drugs, as metabolism and excretion of substances slow down, increasing the risk of toxicity. It is important to note that many of the health benefits of moderate alcohol use for older adults may come with negative trade-offs. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation.

Aging baby boomers — the Woodstock generation — had more exposure to alcohol and drugs than previous generations, who viewed the use of such substances as a moral weakness and were much less familiar with marijuana, Dr. Blow said. He has now been sober for four years and has become a recovery peer advocate at Senior Hope, an outpatient clinic in Albany that caters to people aged 50 and older who are struggling with substance abuse. While immediate highs are usually short-lived, Akwe said it’s possible for elderly patients to be confused for days. She said the takeaway isn’t to steer clear of cannabis, but to be mindful of risk factors. But such conversations are complicated by the dearth of clinical trials studying the effects of cannabis, available in an increasingly broad range of potency and forms including gummies, oils, vapes and classic joints. The available body of research has raised red flags for older adults and their providers to consider.

We may be paid a fee for marketing or advertising by organizations that can assist with treating people with substance use disorders. Interruption in social and occupation roles or other repercussions of elderly drug abuse may be less noticeable or likely to occur at this stage of life. With age, one departs from these roles naturally in the vast majority of cases, such as through social isolation due to age-group peer mortality or retirement. Of course, slurred speech, smelling of alcohol, and change in physical appearance are all signs that a person needs help and treatment. Common symptoms include chronic, medically unfounded health complaints, confusion, hostility, memory loss, and depression. Native American and Alaska Native people aged 65 and over experienced the biggest increase in age-adjusted alcohol-induced death rates in 2020, with the rate climbing almost 50 percent from 2019.