Addiction Knows No Age

While some addictions start when we are very young, others do not take hold until later in life. Although the media often depicts addiction as a disease of teens and twenty-somethings, addiction can actually happen at any age or stage of life. Studies show that our minds and bodies are in constant states of change and, as such, our behaviours shift as we get older. Genetics, home environment, mental health issues, and other individual factors can influence whether or not we develop an addiction.


Addiction Among Adolescence

Adolescence is a period of change between childhood and adulthood. During this delicate phase of transition, adolescents are particularly vulnerable to a wide range of temptations due to the physical, psychological and emotional changes they experience. In general, this transformational period is characterised by risk-taking and excessive behaviour, an attraction to things that are prohibited and the desire to experiment. Commonly used substances among young adults include:

  • Alcohol
  • Marijuana
  • Synthetic marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamines
  • Heroin
  • Ecstasy
  • Inhalants
  • NPS (New Psychoactive Substance, formally known as legal highs) eg. Bath salts

In general, the consumption of alcohol and narcotics amongst young people is caused by social factors, such as the need to conform to their peers. There are also psychosocial factors, such as the desire to experience new sensations, the “need” to break rules, as well as coping in order to deal with feelings of anxiety or other negative emotions. This behaviour however exposes adolescents to the risk of addiction.


Addiction in Older Adults

As people age, they may have more free time and possibly, more isolated periods. Older adults can progress in their addiction without witnesses who might otherwise voice concerns (such as bosses or local family members).

Drug or alcohol abuse among the elderly is particularly dangerous because senior citizens are more susceptible to the deteriorating effects of these substances. Individuals over 65 have a decreased ability to metabolise drugs or alcohol along with an increased brain sensitivity to them. This makes it dangerous for seniors to use drugs or alcohol at all, even if the person isn’t addicted.

The following stages of life can exacerbate drug or alcohol use among adults:

  • Retirement
  • Death of a loved one
  • Loss of financial status or income
  • Placement in assisted living
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Family conflict
  • Mental or physical health decline, such as memory loss

Its vital that we do not stereotype addiction as having a timeframe or age attached to it. While there are certain factors that increase the risk of a substance use disorder, it can happen to anyone, at any stage or age in life.


Sourced – Hazelden, Origins, Addiction Today, Humanium, Talk to Frank

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