I work with programs for children and youth, and am well versed in the current statistics and trends of drug abuse by young people. That being said, I have apparently neglected to learn how addiction and drug abuse affects senior citizens. A recent article in The New York Times highlighted the growing number of cases of addiction among the older generations (the majority of the substances being alcohol, opiates, and cocaine), as well as inadequate treatment for these people.
Lately, when I think of drug treatment and substance abuse, my mind immediately flashes pictures of celebrities in rehabilitation clinics—who I am not mocking. I applaud anyone who can recognize and get treatment for, or at least attempt to get treatment for, their disease. It’s often easy for the public to recognize drug abuse problems (or at least symptoms) among the young. But in the elderly population, many symptoms of addiction can be masked by, or misdiagnosed as, other illnesses. Society has to be ready to see and treat the substance abuse diseases of older generations and must do so in a manner that doesn’t involve a rehab center rife with young people who are yelling, telling stories of sexual conquests, and physical violence. Moreover, the article pointed out that older citizens have different needs: “different health issues, different emotional issues, [and] different grief issues.”
Moreover, people who have been drinking responsibly all of their lives may realize at an elderly age that they now have a problem. According to the National Institute on Aging, “some research has shown that as people age they become more sensitive to alcohol’s effects.” While we have to raise awareness of addiction among the elderly, we also have to raise awareness among their spouses, children, grandchildren, and caregivers. Society has accepted the role reversal that children take care of their parents after a certain age. But elderly parents, maybe having experienced loss, or able to give good excuses as to why and how they fell, are often able to tug at their children’s emotions. Adult children may not want to intervene in what seems like a few harmless drinks, or they honestly don’t see the problem—which is the sole reason why I am blogging. Just as you would pay attention to signs of addiction in your teenage children, pay attention to the possible signs coming from your spouse, your parent, or your grandparent. Anyone, at any age, can become an addict.
If you or someone you know has a problem with addiction, please seek help.