Alcohol use disorder is defined as the pattern of alcohol use leading to significant impairment or distress in important aspects of functioning, manifested within 12 months. WHO recommends using “harmful use of alcohol” instead of alcoholism. Harmful use of alcohol means that drinking which makes your daily functioning distressful or impaired to the level that you no longer can function well. (Association, 2013)

Alcohol use disorder is said to be lessened in the later age population but there is a growing statistic for older adults. As we grow old, many stressful life events can make us vulnerable, such as the death of a loved one, divorce or separation, lack of physical mobility, lifestyle illnesses and retirement liabilities. This makes them vulnerable to intoxication such as alcohol abuse, drug abuse, tobacco abuse which later turn into an addiction. Drinking alcohol becomes like a coping strategy for baby boomers. It makes them relax and relieve stress from the daily events.

Moreover, there are two types of elderly addicts: those who have been drinking since their adulthood or adolescence and those who have started drinking after 65 of age. The former addicts have been introduced to alcohol long back and it is harder to move back into abstinence. As they must have been adolescent or young adults, the addiction becomes stronger at a neurobiological level.

Addiction in the older population – what it looks like and is it hard to treat?

The baby boomer generation is more problematic than other adults of the next generation when it comes to Alcohol and Drug abuse. The age factor becomes prevailing among older adults while treating addiction. The physical and psychological harms to the older population increase with the amount and frequency of the substance. According to National Institute for Alcohol Abuse recommends drinking less than 7 standard drinks, which can be measured alternatively as a 12-oz beer or a 5-ounce glass of wine. Talking about tobacco use, it is as prevalent as alcohol abuse in the older population. More than 65% reported tobacco use, and only 6% of people used tobacco and alcohol in the 12-month study.

Impact of alcohol and drug use/abuse:

  1. Diminished body capacity. Our body has a limited capacity for alcohol and drug use. As one age, the liver becomes weaker to digest alcohol and drug components. The brain too becomes immune to the alcohol content at a certain point and would require a higher quantity.

  2. Impaired daily living activities such as forgetting your medications, missing items in grocery shopping, unable to cook properly, forget to bathe or brush etc.

  3. Moderation might have some positive effects, but it does make a negative trade-off. Moderate drinking may increase the risk of haemorrhages or stroke, with a decrease in ischemic stroke.

  4. Medications might work less due to the decrease in the activity of potential neurotransmitters at the receptors.

  5. There is an increased susceptibility to drug use and drug abuse. For instance, if the prescribed medications are containing benzodiazepines or opiates, the older adults might respond to them in a more vulnerable manner than the younger population.

  6. The acceptability and accessibility of recreational drugs such as marijuana is a potential risk factor for the older population. Marijuana usage impairs memory, increase heart rate and blood pressure, higher risk for heart attack for someone over 65.

Traditionally, the treatment approach was only focusing on the riddance of alcohol intake, but with new research coming in, the advanced intervention plan consists of controlled alcohol drinking as a primary goal, so that there is a slow-paced improvement in the patient’s recovery.

Occasional drinking can turn into addiction if not taken good consideration of quantity and frequency of substance intake. Alcohol abuse and drug abuse has serious physical and psychological implications, especially to the older population. Addcounsel has a variety of treatment plans specialized for every kind of client. Whether you are 16 or 60, your needs will be catered to by a team of expert professionals in the field of alcohol/drug addiction interventions.

References:

  1. Kuerbis, A., Sacco, P., Blazer, D. G., & Moore, A. A. (2014). Substance abuse among older adults. Clinics in geriatric medicine, 30(3), 629–654. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cger.2014.04.008

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