The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a report earlier this year showing the prevalence of substance abuse problems among American adults under the age of 64. The report revealed just how serious drink and drugs are among working age adults. However, as with so many other reports, the CDC findings ignored those 65 and older. Some say it is time to change how we look at things. There is a whole class of forgotten substance abusers among pensioners.

USC Kreck School of Medicine professor Dr Akikur Mohammad told Newsday earlier this month that the number of deaths among seniors resulting from substance abuse is often understated due to extenuating circumstances. He cited one example of an elderly man who fell and hit his head while drunk. Despite the fall being directly related to alcohol abuse, the man’s death was not classified as being the result of substance abuse.

Mohammad also asserts that pensioners are being forgotten because they often live, and suffer, alone. They can be addicted to alcohol or drugs without anyone being the wiser. Many will die in their addiction, never getting any sort of help.

Substances Being Abused

Alcohol continues to be the most abused substance in the vast majority of countries in the West. The easy access to alcohol and its social acceptability make it the perfect substance for developing new addictions and carrying on existing ones. It is no different among pensioners who have been used to a lifetime of drinking.

According to Mohammad, pensioner substance abuse is not confined to alcohol only. Older citizens are also prone to addictions involving:

  • Tranquillisers – Tranquillisers are sedative drugs doctors prescribe for depression, anxiety, stress, and sleeping disorders. As sedatives, they block certain brain chemicals in order to adjust one’s mood and emotional state. Many of them are highly addictive. Benzodiazepines are the most common form of tranquillisers used in the UK. 
  • Sleep Aids – Drugs prescribed as sleep aids are also abused quite frequently among the elderly. The sorts of drugs may include benzodiazepines, but there are other sleep aids as well. The problem with sleep aid abuse is that it can be easily overlooked among pensioners who live alone. 
  • Pain Medications – Opiates and other pain medications are routinely prescribed to seniors after surgeries. These may also be prescribed to manage pain for chronic conditions or serious injuries. However, as with anyone else, pensioners are subject to painkiller addiction if their use is not closely monitored. 

There is a distinct difference between substance abuse among pensioners and young people as evidenced by the list of drugs above. That difference is the fact that pensioners are less likely to use illicit drugs or legal highs. Instead, their problems are more likely to be rooted in alcohol, prescription medications, or over-the-counter drugs.

Treating Pensioners

What Dr Mohammad says about substance abuse among pensioners makes complete sense when you step back and think about it. That being the case, the next question is one of how to treat pensioners battling drugs and alcohol. Is it appropriate to enrol older people in residential treatment programmes alongside younger addicts? Are NHS services capable of handling rehab programmes for pensioners?

There are certainly more questions than answers here. Nevertheless, that is not to say that nothing can be done for older addicts. Rather, we need to start looking at ways to effectively help pensioners with drink and drug problems. If you happen to be one of them, Addiction Helper wants to be of assistance. Call us so we can help you find treatment today.

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