Substance Use with Age

Age matters when it comes to substance abuse.

Studies show the earlier drug or alcohol use begins, the more debilitating the long term consequences can be.  Conversely, as people age, they become more dependent on prescription drugs and therefore more susceptible to the effects of a steady diet of chemical substances.  Experts say that there is also a definite correlation between substance use with age.

The reality is that anyone at any age can have a drug abuse problem.  Even babies that are exposed to drugs in the womb experience some of the same consequences of abuse such as withdrawal symptoms when their bodies are no longer receiving drugs.  Since uncontrolled drug use is a progressive condition, if treatment is not received to stop the abuse, substance use naturally increases with age. Likewise, the illnesses associated with chronic substance abuse begins to manifest as the substance abuser becomes older.

In recent years, substance use among the aging population has become a serious public health concern.  Surveys reveal that more seniors are addicted to drugs today than ever before.  This growing trend is referred to as the “silent epidemic” because addiction is least expected in this segment of society.  Older people are often expected to be on some type of medication to mitigate the pain and suffering of age related illnesses such as arthritis, cancer and respiratory problems.  As a result, when abuse of these drugs occur, it often goes unnoticed.  

According to Ruth Sanchez-Way, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP) many older people either don’t realize or are ashamed to admit that they have a drug problem. However, according to CSAP records, at least 17% of Americans age 60 and older abuse prescription drugs or alcohol.

Although millions of Americans are consuming drugs like Valium, Librium, Xanax and Halcion, a large portion of that use population are seniors.  This is because anxiety and insomnia are two of the most common complaints of older individuals. While these drugs are helpful when used appropriately, their potential for addiction makes it easy for users to segue into misuse and dependence.  Unfortunately, the indicators of drug abuse in older people are also common symptoms associated with aging such as memory loss, spending more time alone and frequent stumbling and falling.

Substance Abuse

Substance use that occur with age mostly begin with legitimate use of a prescription drug like Vicodin and morphine derivatives. These are often prescribed to alleviate suffering caused by joint pain and fractures. Other addictive substances such as benzodiazepine help people to cope with emotional distress after the loss of a spouse or dramatic changes in life circumstances.  Since the drugs help people to feel better and these conditions can be chronic, the duration of drug use usually exceed safe limits.   As a result, scientists at the National Institute on Drug Abuse suggest that these drugs should not be used for more than a four-month period. Also, because older people metabolize drugs less efficiently, they typically need a lower dose.

Finding your way out of addiction requires taking a proactive approach to drug use.  Having a candid talk with your prescribing physician about your concerns or contacting a drug treatment facility that can help you to stop the abuse are important initial steps that could ultimately, turn out to be life-saving.  Richard in the meantime, Finlayson of the May Clinic also suggest gradually reducing amount of drugs being consumed on a daily basis.  Counseling as well as moderate exercise can help to reduce high levels of anxiety and prompt greater effort towards participating in the drug rehabilitation process.   

The dangers of drug abuse such as related illnesses, suicide and drug overdose deaths do not discriminate.  Whether you are 12 or 60, if you recognize that you have a drug problem it is important to seek immediate intervention to safely halt the abuse and address the underlying causes and consequences of addiction.  



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.

About the Author

is a proud alumni member of WhiteSands Treatment. After living a life of chaos, destruction and constant let downs, Mark was able to make a complete turnaround that sparked a new way of life. He is serious about his recovery along with helping others. At WhiteSands Treatment, we offer support to you in your homes or when you are out living in your daily lives.