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Is Grandpa an Alcoholic? Addiction Among the Elderly

Updated: Oct 24, 2023



When we think of an addict, we tend to think of a young person. You never think it could be your grandmother, but the truth is that more than 1 million individuals over the age of 65 suffer from a substance use disorder.


Here are some important considerations related to addiction among the elderly.


Substance Use and Cognitive Changes in Elderly Addicts


As you get older, your body changes and that has an effect on your risk for substance abuse. Your metabolism slows down, which makes it harder for your body to clear any substances you use, and it makes your brain more sensitive to those substances.


What’s more, using certain substances, like cocaine, in your youth can accelerate age-related changes. Specifically, it can cause a faster decline in the temporal lobe gray matter. That basically means your brain shrinks in certain areas faster than people who didn’t use those same substances in their youth. That can result in significant cognitive changes as you get older.


Negative Effects of Substance Use on General Health


Of course, as you age, there is an increased risk for things like mood disorders, lung problems, heart problems, liver disease, and memory issues, among other possible health concerns. Drug or alcohol use can exacerbate these kinds of conditions.


Certain substances can increase your heart rate to dangerous levels, and if you have a heart problem, that can result in a heart attack. Other substances can damage the heart muscle directly, and they can damage other vital organs like your liver or kidneys. Substances that you smoke can have a dramatic effect on your lung function and can cause problems associated with pulmonary diseases like lung cancer.


It’s also well-known that some substances can cause deep depression, even if they initially seem to elevate your mood. Additionally, substances like alcohol can cause significant memory problems.


Impaired Judgment and Coordination Can Result in Falls


Impaired judgment and coordination associated with substance use are bad enough in a young person, but they can be deadly in the elderly. They create an increased risk of falls, motor vehicle crashes, and other types of accidents.


This kind of problem can result in death or serious disability that severely limits the quality of life for an older individual.


Increased Risk for Drug Interactions


Many elderly people are on prescription medications for chronic health problems. Not only does this put them at greater risk for a prescription drug addiction, but the use of other substances can also interact negatively with their normal medication.


In fact, in one study of more than 3,000 adults between the ages of 57 - 85 years old, 80% used at least one prescription medication. Given the statistics for substance use among the elderly, that means that at least 1 in 25 of those individuals is at a greater risk for a major drug interaction.


Sober Sidekick Can Help Addiction Recovery at Any Age


Sober Sidekick is a community of recovering addicts who support one another as they try to kick the habit. It doesn’t matter what your age is, having a positive peer community on your side can help you overcome your addiction.


The Sober Sidekick app and social media platform gives you access to support in your recovery at any time of day or night. Give it a try today!


Image: Freepik


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