The growth of heroin addiction is sky-rocketing among older Americans. One theory behind the epidemic is that seniors are abusing prescription drugs. Opioid pain reliever medications like Benzodiazepines and anxiety drugs like Valium and Xanax are readily handed out quickly by the medical establishment. After taking these drugs for a while, seniors build up a tolerance to the drugs and require higher doses. This causes them to become addicted. When these drugs stop relieving their pain they will often turn to heroin. Heroin is an opioid drug that is synthesized from morphine. When heroin enters the brain it is converted back into morphine. The morphine binds to the brain’s opioid receptors which control the perception of pain. Opioid receptors in the brain stem control automatic processes that are vital to life. Heroin abuse disrupts these natural processes and can cause many adverse effects to the mind and body.
Factors of a Hidden Epidemic
Because the scenario of senior citizens as drug addicts is not the typical stereotype of a drug addict, this epidemic has pretty much been hidden. The elder population in america is usually over-looked when one considers drug addiction. Some factors that keep the problem hidden are:
- Most seniors live alone so their drug abuse is not being observed by others.
- Bizarre behavior, accidents and falls caused by substance abuse can be blamed on problems of aging.
- It is not unusual to see seniors taking medications so it is usually not questioned.
- Most seniors are retired and are shielded from having to perform duties openly. Because they have fewer responsibilities they are able to hide their addiction.
- Diagnostic testing is designed and geared for the young to detect behavioral problems. Not being able to function properly, being less productive and becoming lax in societal roles is viewed as normal behavior among senior citizens.
Contributing Causes of Baby Boomer Heroin Addiction
There are many factors that contribute to heroin abuse among seniors, including:
- Many seniors suffer from some type of chronic pain and will seek to find relief in medications.
- Often times they live alone and are isolated from interacting with others. This causes them to suffer from loneliness.
- When a senior loses their life partner they can be severely affected by grief and depression.
- Seniors struggle with having to confront issues such as deteriorating health and the fear of death.
- Some seniors are not able to meet their financial obligations and this causes them to be overwhelmed by worry.
- When cognitive abilities start to decline, seniors struggle to make the right choices and are often forgetful as to when they last took their medication.
- Doctors often ignore or overlook addiction treatment among the elderly.
The dangers of heroin addiction among seniors are many. In most cases, the drugs will cause damage to the body and may also cause toxicity. Drug abuse can also lead to mental confusion and deterioration. Senior addicts are also at risk of seriously injuring themselves by falls and other types of accidents. Deterioration of vital organs, overdose and death are other dangers to be aware of.
The families, friends and the social and medical communities must step up to the task of addressing this growing problem of senior addiction. It is up to us to protect this very precious and vulnerable group.
If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.