The aging Baby Boomer generation is creating a dramatic shift in the demographics within the United States. It is estimated that 3 to 4 million Americans are turning 65 annually, and the use of prescription medications within the this demographic plays a role in the increase of substance abuse by older Americans.
Risks of Prescription Medication
The need for pain and disease management as we age naturally increases the number of prescriptions we have access to. Opioids such as Vicodin, Oxycontin and Percocet are among the most effective medications for pain management. However, long-term use of these medications can lead to dependence and painful withdrawal symptoms when the medication is halted. Benzodiazepines such as Xanax, Klonopin and Valium are frequently prescribed to the elderly to treat anxiety and sleeplessness. Over time, patients taking benzodiazepines may develop a tolerance and increase their dosage without consulting their physician.
Prescription drug abuse is difficult to recognize in the elderly. Few people, including the patient, expect substance abuse to occur in the later stages of life, especially if it’s never been a problem before. Many of the warning signs of pain medication abuse are masked by our assumptions and expectations of getting older. Even if substance abuse was not immediately suspected, memory lapses or slurred speech in a younger person would alert family and friends that something was wrong, but the same symptoms in an elderly person might be easily dismissed as the natural process of aging. If you’re a family member or care provider of an elderly person taking prescription medications, especially opioids or benzodiazepines, be aware of the signs of prescription drug abuse:
Chronic pain that won’t subside include:
- Trouble concentrating
- Unsteady gait or frequent falls
- Changes in eating habits
- Depression or irritability
- Loss of interest in family or hobbies
- Poor hygiene
- Changes in sleeping habits
Addiction to prescription drugs can rob an individual of his or her golden years. Substance abuse disorder worsens almost every other medical condition a patient may have. High blood pressure, chronic pain, autoimmune and gastrointestinal diseases all escalate with the abuse of opioids. Accidental choking, seizures, heart problems, coma and death are among the many complications of pain medication abuse.
Drug addiction treatment is never a one-size-fits-all plan. Diagnosis, treatment and addiction management for older adults requires special considerations. Older adults metabolize substances differently than younger people. Diagnostics must accurately establish which symptoms are caused by substance abuse and which may require medical intervention. Withdrawal is more difficult and more dangerous for older adults. And many aging individuals lack a consistent support system. All of these factors must be considered when developing a recovery plan.
The multidisciplinary team at our Georgia Detox and Recovery Centers has the experience and sensitivity to help older patients address pain medication abuse. A focus on coping with loss and establishing a support network outside of treatment is an important part of the long-term recovery plan.
Aging Americans can learn to manage their substance abuse disorder and increase the quality of their lives. At Georgia Detox and Recovery Centers each patient is valued and evaluated as an individual, regardless of age. No one is too old to benefit from drug addiction treatment.