Futures Recovery Healthcare

Older Adults, Addiction, and other Mental Health Disorders



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The older adult population in the United States continues to grow. According to the United States’ Census Bureau in 2010 there were about 40.3 million people in the U.S. 65 years of age and older and in 2019 that number grew to 54 million. As the Baby Boomer generation continues to enter these later years of life, the number of seniors in our country grows. So too, do the rates of addiction in this age group.

Experts estimate that about 8 million in this group of seniors are living with an addiction to alcohol, drugs (both illicit and prescription), or both. Statistics from the National Institutes of Drug Abuse (NIDA) revealed that in 2018, 1 million U.S. adults 65 years of age and older had a substance use disorder (SUD) and alcohol use disorder (AUD) is the number one reason seniors seek addiction treatment.

This rate of addiction, to both alcohol and illicit and prescription drugs, continues to grow and greatly outpace the groups of seniors that have come before. Why is this age group experiencing such increased rates of AUD and SUD? While there are various factors that contribute to this, one of the biggest contributing factors is this generation’s past use and experiences with alcohol and drugs.


The Baby Boomers are defined as anyone born between the years of 1946 and 1964. This group began to enter retirement years in 2011 and will continue to enter their retirement years until 2029. For many in this age group, they have already experimented with using illicit drugs and practiced heavy alcohol consumption as they were growing up. Life in the 60s and 70s welcomed social acceptance of and experimentation with illicit substances far more than any previous generations. This trend in drug use seems to have continued with this group as they age.

In addition, the elderly also are more prone to have physical ailments, such as chronic illness or pain, which predispose them to be prescribed pain medications. Sadly, many of these seniors unknowingly become addicted to the pain medications thus increasing the rate of addiction to opioids and other prescription medications amongst this age group. And what’s more, diagnosing older adults with an AUD or SUD can be tricky so many times the dependence goes undiagnosed.

It’s imperative that those in the medical community as well as caretakers, family, friends, and loved ones become more knowledgeable about addiction signs in the elderly so they too can get the help they need. Futures Recovery Healthcare recognizes the need for evidence-based addiction treatment in this age group. Catering to adults, Futures seeks to provide their patients with the tools they need to establish a strong foothold in recovery as well as the aftercare support needed to sustain long-lasting recovery.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the Drug Abuse Warning Network, in 2011 there were more than 2,000 drug-related emergency room visits by older adults. With the overall growth in both the number of senior citizens in the population and drug use, experts say that this number has only grown.


When it comes to older adults and addiction, the signs and symptoms of a problem or even full-blown addiction can go unrecognized. From caregivers, loved ones, and even health care professionals, addiction—to alcohol or drugs—can often go undiagnosed in older adults. For this reason, it’s essential to educate those who interact with older adults about the signs and symptoms of addiction in this age group.

Aging brings with it physical, mental, and even emotional changes. Many of these changes can mimic signs of addiction and vice versa. In addition, many older adults are isolated so while they may be addicted to alcohol or a drug, it is unrecognized by their family and loved ones. Or, as holds true for many senior citizens, they have limited exposure to others on a daily basis so their addiction truly goes unnoticed and thus untreated.

The signs of addiction—to alcohol or drugs (both illicit and prescription)—include cognitive, physical, social, psychiatric, and other general issues in the elderly. Again, it’s crucial to understand that some of these signs of substance use disorders in the elderly can mimic normal aging issues and medical conditions related to aging. If you or an older loved one seem to be exhibiting any of these signs, it’s important to look beyond the surface so the addiction doesn’t go untreated.

Cognitive Signs

  • Overall cognitive concerns
  • Trouble making decisions
  • Focusing issues
  • Memory issues such as forgetfulness
  • Being disoriented

Physical Signs

  • Falls and bruises without any obvious cause
  • Sleep issues such as insomnia
  • Headaches, dizziness, fatigue
  • Personal hygiene decline
  • Slurred speech
  • Loss of weight
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Blacking out
  • Incontinence

Social Signs

  • Increased social isolation or withdrawal from normal activities
  • Money issues
  • Legal issues
  • Problems with relationships with family and friends

Psychiatric Signs

Overall and General Signs

  • Being out of medications before the prescription refill is due
  • Lying about how much and how frequently medications are being taken
  • Talking a good amount about the benefits of the medication or alcohol
  • Hiding the amount of alcohol or number of pills consumed
  • Having prescriptions filled at multiple pharmacies
  • Visiting multiple medical professionals for the same issue
  • Becoming defensive, secretive, or uneasy when the topic of alcohol use or drug use is brought up

If you suspect that an older adult you love is struggling with an addiction to alcohol or drugs there is help and hope. Each year thousands of older adults and Baby Boomers with addiction issues seek treatment and recover from addiction of all kinds. You or your loved one can too.

Factors Contributing to High Rates of Addiction in the Elderly

Not only does this age group have higher rates of addiction than the groups of elderly that came before them because of their open-mindedness when it comes to alcohol and drug use, but there are also other factors making this group more vulnerable to addiction.

Older adults experience more physical and psychiatric issues as they age. From chronic pain and chronic health conditions to mental health issues and poor coping skills, older adults are being prescribed medications to treat these conditions to which they can become addicted.

According to a Medicare study, 15% of older adults leave the hospital—no matter what the reason for the hospitalization—with an opioid prescription. It’s no wonder opioid use disorder and addiction to opioids in older adults is growing rapidly. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), illegal drug use among adults aged 50 or older is projected to increase from 2.2 percent to 3.1 percent between 2001 and 2020.

When it comes to chronic pain, many older adults live with this daily. Sadly, many medical professionals mistakenly think that the elderly won’t become addicted to these often-misused drugs. They couldn’t be more mistaken and in fact, this is the route by which many Baby Boomers are becoming addicted to prescription opioids.

Futures understands the need to treat chronic pain in safe, effective means and how intricately connected chronic pain and addiction are in this age group. Futures has programs specifically designed to treat addiction in those with chronic pain issues.

Addiction Treatment for the Elderly

While the number of older adults with an AUD or SUD continues to climb so too does the rate of success in addiction treatment. According to SAMHSA, about 32 adults 65 years of age and older entered treatment for an AUD or SUD in 2012. What’s more, the older adult responds well to many addiction treatment programs.

Most older adults are treated for AUD. However, the numbers treated for both prescription and illicit drug use issues continue to increase. When it comes to an alcohol problem in the elderly population, it can be difficult to see and is often missed in close family and friends. What looks like a glass of wine with dinner or a few beers with the Sunday football game may be covering a deeper dependence on alcohol as the misuse of alcohol goes unnoticed.

During this stage of life, many elderly lose their spouses or partners, siblings, and friends. This leaves them isolated and can often lead to depression. The occasional glass of wine or bottle of beer to help ‘take the edge off’ can become a full blown addiction. And, what’s more, is that the impact of alcohol abuse on the body of an older adult is more devastating. This is particularly true if there are already preexisting health conditions.

This is another reason why understanding the signs of addiction and alcohol misuse, and substance abuse in the elderly is crucial for health care providers, family, and friends of older adults.

If you think that you or your loved one may have an issue, seek help. As mentioned, addiction treatment options are plenty, and the treatment outcomes are strong when it comes to elderly patients. This group responds particularly well to both cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical-behavioral therapy (DBT).

Both types of therapy are commonly used, evidence-based therapies found at addiction treatment centers. The highly-structured approach of these therapies, particularly CBT, supports older adults who may be experiencing memory loss or other cognitive issues common to this age group.

If you or a loved one have an issue with alcohol or drugs (illicit or prescription), getting treatment is the best way to begin the road to recovery. Older adults are in need of proper diagnosis of AUD and SUD as well as treatment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that in 2017 adults over the age 55 saw the biggest jump in number of deaths from overdose than any other age group.

Futures is here to help older adults be accurately diagnosed for an AUD or SUD and get the treatment needed to begin life in recovery. Call us at 866-804-20 or online.


Take the important first step and call us now for help.

call now CALL NOW
(866) 351-7588
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