When people think of individuals struggling with addiction or substance use disorder, the overwhelming thought is to think of a young adult. Addiction is often thought of as a disease that impacts a younger population- teenagers experimenting with drugs and alcohol, college aged young adults on their own for the first time at a university, or the 21-to-35 aged adults still going out and partying. While addiction does impact the younger adult population more so than other age groups, there is a segment of the population that has seen skyrocketing rates of substance use disorder over the last several years: Seniors and the older adult population.


Addiction affects up to 17% of the older population, meaning individuals over the age of 60. Alcohol and prescription drug misuse are the two biggest substance issues facing older adults and seniors with a substance use disorder.


Substance use disorder in older adults is one of the fastest growing health problems in America, and often ignored, underestimated, or undiagnosed.


There are several factors that influence substance use disorder or substance abuse in the elderly population. Seniors dealing with addiction issues may have previously experienced substance use disorder issues when they were younger or may have developed addiction issues as they aged into older adulthood.


Why are Addiction Rates Rising in Seniors?

  • Loneliness or disconnection
  • Bereavement; loss of a spouse or loved one
  • Financial difficulties, such a loss of income or lack of income
  • Retirement
  • Medical conditions or health issues
  • Boredom
  • Relocation, such as moving away from family, or placement in a nursing home or assisted living facility
  • Family conflict or lack of communication with family or loved ones
  • Loss of meaning or purpose in their daily lives
  • Physical or mental decline or deterioration


One, several, or all of these issues can negatively impact a senior’s relationship with drugs and alcohol. Other factors can include that many medical professionals and doctors are untrained or unaware of how to diagnose substance use disorder accurately and effectively in the elderly. It can be a difficult task, since as people age, they begin to deal with more and more health issues, which can require more medications in order to treat. An abundance of medication, many of which can have risk associated with use or carry with them the ability to be abused, makes for a fertile breeding ground for an elderly person to develop a substance use disorder.  It must be noted that just because a senior did not have a history of addiction or drug and alcohol use when they were younger, does not mean that it cannot develop later in life. All of the factors listed above make it clear that seniors can be in a risky or difficult place physically, mentally, and emotionally, making the risk for addiction that much greater.


The most common substances impacting the elderly and older adult population are:

  • Alcohol
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Opioids
  • Marijuana


Approximately 30% of older adults over the age of 65 are prescribed some form of potentially harmful medication. Alcohol is the most common substance used by older adults, with 65% of adults 65 years of age or older reporting high-risk drinking behaviors. High—risk drinking is defined as exceeding daily guidelines at least weekly. This last statistic is concerning, as the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) says that men and women 65 years of age or older should consume no more than 1 drink daily and a maximum of 2 drinks on any one occasion.


Another danger for seniors suffering from addiction is the many medical complications older adults experience, meaning that their risk during a drug and alcohol detox may be greater than a younger person. At the least, seniors may have unrelated medical issues that must be managed when entering a drug and alcohol detox or rehab. Finally, due to the number of medications many older adults need to manage their medical conditions, arrangements must be made to limit drug interactions and ensure that the elderly patient is kept safe during detox and treatment for any drug or alcohol issue.


The good news is that although the number of elderly people and older adults suffering from addiction is rising, that help is available. Initially, elderly patients or their family members should seek out addiction treatment services that include 24/7 medical care during detox, to make sure that the older adult receiving care is supported for any medical conditions they may have during detox. This will also ensure that they are cared for and support appropriately for any medical complications that may arise during their detox and stabilization period. Just like younger adults or middle-aged adults, older adults that ask for help, seek treatment, and take action in recovery are able to overcome their addiction and find a beautiful life in recovery.


If you or someone you know needs help for addiction or co-occurring disorders, please give us a call. Innovo Detox offers the latest in evidence-based medical, psychiatric, and clinical care for those in need of detox and medical stabilization in Pennsylvania and the surrounding Mid-Atlantic area. If we aren’t the best fit for you or a loved one, we will take the necessary time to work with you to find a detox, rehab, treatment center or provider that better fits your needs. Please give us a call at (717) 619-3260 or email our team at info@innovodetox.com. For more information on our company or services, please visit our website at www.innovodetox.com.