Adults Can Struggle with Substance Abuse in Senior Years

The disease of addiction is on the rise today, more than ever before. As if the harsh realities of addiction weren’t frightening enough, the baby boomer generation makes up many people who are addicted to drugs, alcohol, or both! Substance abuse among older adults often goes unnoticed as there are numerous misunderstandings about this generation as a whole.

Often, these issues tend to be overlooked and undertreated due to the daily routines and lifestyles of the baby boomers.

Years 1946-1964

The baby boomers got their names from the increase in births following World War II. In the United States today, this generation consists of about 74.9 million people. Today, this generation ranges in age from the early 50s to the early 70s.

Society’s views and ideas during this time were slowly changing, both positively and negatively, depending on perspective. This was a time of radical change in cultural views otherwise known as the “free love” movement. Basically “sex, drugs, and rock & roll” became the motto of the youth of this generation. Ultimately, these cultural ideas set the tone for future generations and their outlook toward addiction, the use of alcohol, or other substances.

However, as this generation grows older, baby boomers face the repercussions of their newly found culture in increasing numbers. Addiction, as well as its consequences, is rapidly changing the way society views substance abuse among older adults today.

Yet, there is still an alarmingly high number of older adults who are underdiagnosed with substance abuse disorder.

Substance Abuse Among Older Adults

It is inevitable for any generation to age and develops health issues. Generally, as people grow older, health begins to decline. This decline can either come slowly or rapidly, depending on the individual. Genetics and self-care play a large factor in this; however, adding substance abuse or alcoholism to the equation creates more room for disaster rather quickly and more noticeably.

Aside from health issues, age brings on many other life changes such as:

  • Lifestyle changes
  • Family obligations
  • Changes in work or retirement
  • Physical pain
  • Stress
  • Loneliness

Ironically enough, some of these issues can even lead older adults to turn toward drugs or alcohol if they hadn’t done so yet. Usually, addiction presents itself before an individual grows old; however, it is possible that an older adult might become addicted to medications they may be prescribed due to their age. They may also use drugs and alcohol to cope with their daily struggles as an older adult.

Oftentimes substance abuse among older adults goes unnoticed due to the misconception that older generations cannot be addicts. Rather, it is important to realize that addiction does not discriminate against age, and, therefore, the consequences of any addict remain the same. Underestimating the grips of substance abuse among older adults can lead to dangerous situations, including death.

The Difference Between Age and Addiction

Substance abuse in older adults is becoming more prevalent than ever in today’s day and age. Yet older adults are more often than not underdiagnosed by healthcare professionals. Addiction, especially in older adults, can sometimes be difficult to detect, possibly due to the increase in addiction among younger generations.

While substance abuse among older adults is often referred to as a hidden problem, there are certain behaviors to look out for in an individual of the baby boomer generation.

A few of these symptoms include:

  • Memory loss
  • Disorientation
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Not only can the symptoms of old age and addiction become intermingled, but older adults also tend to hide their addiction or alcoholism fairly well, making it even more difficult to determine the underlying causes of their actions or feelings.


Generally, one might think that drug abuse would decline as the individual ages. However, evidence supports that older adults make up a large number of those who suffer from addiction and substance abuse.

A growing trend between substance abuse and older adults is the increase in opioid abuse currently running rampant in the United States. It is not only sweeping the nation’s young people, but the most common type of drug abuse within the baby boomer generation is opioids. This can include prescription painkillers, such as Oxycodone, Fentanyl, or Morphine, or street drugs like Heroin.

This can be quite alarming due to the image an older adult may give off. However, aside from alcohol, another commonly abused substance of the baby boomers, it is one of the leading causes of hospital visits and drug-related deaths in the older community.

Treating Substance Abuse in Older Adults

The treatment dynamic for older adults differs slightly from those targeted for treating individuals in a younger age group, primarily because older adults, despite their addiction, commonly have physical or cognitive health issues that require special attention.

Not only is it common for older adults to enter a treatment facility with their addiction and other health issues, but they are quickly becoming the largest demographic in the United States. This can become difficult for treatment centers because they may not have enough room for the growing population of addicts and alcoholics seeking treatment.

Also, in regards to treatment facilities, substance abuse among older adults requires a knowledgeable staff. There are many factors that go into creating an older individual who suffers from addiction. It can become complicated due to health issues, overall mental state, and certain medications they may be prescribed at the time of entering treatment.

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