Futures Recovery Healthcare

Senior Citizens and Addiction: What You Need to Know



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Senior citizens, generally defined as those individuals who are age 65 and older, makeup about 16% of the population, according to a 2018 United States Census Bureau estimate. As this number grows, it’s expected that by 2035 there will be more senior citizens than children in the United States. 

As this number grows, so too are the rates of alcohol use disorder (AUD) and substance use disorder (SUD) amongst these Baby Boomers. In fact, according to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, nearly one million U.S. citizens over the age of 65 reported having a SUD. While we don’t normally think of seniors as a group with a high rate of alcohol or substance use issues, this simply isn’t true. 

Today’s seniors are the Baby Boomer generation and are defined as those born between 1946 and 1964. This group of individuals was part of the period in history when drug use was more widely accepted and experimented with by many. For some, the drug use and alcohol use started during that time period and continued. However, for others, SUD and AUDs have developed later in life. 

No matter when or how you or loved ones’, alcohol, or drug issues started, there is hope and help. At Futures Recovery Healthcare, we understand there isn’t just one pathway to recovery. Offering multiple pathways, resources, and programs of treatment, Futures helps seniors who want to break free from alcohol addiction or substance abuse every day. 

Understanding Addiction in the Elderly

When it comes to addiction in the elderly, there are two types of addiction; early-onset and late-onset addiction. For many in this generation, the experimentation with drugs was quite common in their teens and twenties. This early ‘experimentation’ sometimes led to dependence and continued use over the years. For this group, whose addiction began before the age of 65, early-onset addiction occurred. 

The Psychiatric Times reports that this early-onset group accounts for two-thirds of the senior population with an AUD. This early-onset group has also been found to have more physical issues and psychiatric problems than the late-onset group. 

The late-onset group has addiction or dependence develop after the age of 65. For this group, many stressful life events, such as retiring, death of a spouse, health issues, and more contribute to the development of an AUD or SUD. In this late-onset group, most of the time the substance or alcohol isn’t used to get high but to self-medicate. Seniors who have late-onset addiction, tend to turn to these substances as a way to numb both physical and emotional pain. 

Co-occurring Disorders, Seniors, and Addiction 

For many who lose a loved one, retire, or are faced with health issues, co-occurring mental health issues may develop. These can include depression and anxiety. Depression and AUDs are common amongst both early-onset and late-onset individuals. 

According to the National Institutes on Health, there is a high correlation between alcohol use in the elderly and depression. And, as with other mental health and physical health issues in this age group, the co-occurrence can make it difficult to not only diagnose but also to treat. 

Sleep disorders are also a common problem for seniors. Research shows that for those seniors with AUDs, sleep issues are even more common. But, as in the case of depression and some cognitive issues, it can be difficult to diagnose. Many seniors report using alcohol to help them sleep better however, AUDs have been shown to adversely impact sleep and other health issues in the elderly. 

Futures is well-versed in treating AUDs, SUDs, and numerous co-occurring mental health issues. It’s important when seeking treatment for alcohol addiction or drug addiction to find a treatment center that is experienced in addressing all of your needs. If you, or your loved one, have a co-occurring mental health disorder, such as depression, it’s imperative to get treatment for this alongside your AUD or SUD treatment. 

For seniors with an AUD or SUD, there are concerns about health unique to this group. Most seniors are already at higher risk of developing certain medical issues. The abuse of alcohol or drugs—illicit or prescription—increases this risk. Liver disease, cardiovascular issues, immune system problems, gastrointestinal (GI) concerns, endocrine issues, and more are of particular concern. 

It’s vital for anyone, senior or otherwise, who is struggling with a dependence on alcohol or another substance to get help. Although it may seem hopeless, there is help, just a call away. Many have felt hopeless in the throws of addiction and found a better life, free from alcohol and drugs. You, or your loved one, can too.

Signs of AUD or SUD in the Elderly

When it comes to the signs of addiction in the elderly things may present differently. While there are some similar signs of addiction that occur in those younger, with seniors it’s important to look for certain signs. These signs of an AUD or SUD can be broken into four groups: physical, cognitive, psychiatric, and social. 

Physical Signs 

  • Poor hygiene
  • Incontinence
  • Impaired self-care
  • Falls, bruises, burns
  • Poor nutrition
  • Dizziness
  • Blackouts
  • Pain
  • Headaches
  • Sensory issues
  • Unexpected reactions to medications
  • Increased tolerance to alcohol or medications


  • Memory loss
  • Decision-making problems
  • Cognitive impairment issues
  • Disorientation


  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Sleep issues


  • Social isolation
  • Financial problems
  • Legal issues
  • Family issues
  • Medication issues like running out or borrowing from others

It’s critical to understand that addiction and it’s accompanying symptoms can look different from one person to the next—no matter what their age. Having an open, honest, and non-accusatory conversation with someone is key to understanding whether or not they have an issue with alcohol or drugs. Approaching each of these conversations from a place of love, compassion, and empathy is crucial in getting them help—if they need it. 

Futures compassionate outreach team has vast experience in working with both individuals and families facing addiction issues. If you are concerned about someone you love, particularly a senior citizen, the outreach team at Futures can help. From interventions to follow up care after treatment, our outreach team is dedicated to helping each individual and family who reaches out for help to find the program at Futures that best fits their needs. 

Futures offers three different residential treatment programs; Core, Orenda, and Rise. Each of these programs offers something a bit different and caters to various individuals and their unique addiction treatment needs. 

Treatment for Senior Citizens with an AUD or SUD

The research in regards to the best treatment programs for seniors with addiction issues remains limited. However, evidence-based treatment programs in environments with an adult-focused population have shown to be effective. Because of the unique needs of this group, both group and individual psychotherapy are helpful. For many seniors, it is difficult to open up to or relate to younger individuals in group therapy, however, taking part in group therapy helps to alleviate shame and isolation for this age group. 

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown to be effective with the elderly as well as across multiple age groups in addiction treatment. In CBT, the focus is on identifying and changing feelings, thoughts, and behaviors associated with AUDs and SUDs. 

Exposing seniors to support groups once clinical treatment is completed is also vital. From Alcoholics Anonymous to Celebrate Recovery, these support groups help to reduce shame and social isolation. 

If you are a senior citizen and think you may have an issue with alcohol, an illicit drug, or a prescription drug there is help. Taking the first step and reaching out for help is often the most difficult. Futures Recovery Healthcare is here for you. Our compassionate and dedicated team will help you to reclaim your life free from alcohol or drugs. Contact us confidentiality online or call us at 866-804-2098


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

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