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 young adults, addiction can actually happen at any 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, environment, mental health, and other individual factors can influence whether or not we develop an addiction.
Chemical dependency in seniors is commonly overlooked or misdiagnosed by healthcare providers. Therefore, it is crucial for family caregivers to be aware of the signs of chemical dependency in older adults. While dealing with an elderly alcoholic parent can be extremely challenging, it is important to understand that treatment programs can be successful. Recognising this kind of substance abuse in a loved one over the age of 65 is critical in getting them the help they need to get into recovery.
Older adults experience increased sensitivity to alcohol due to aging. This age group’s signs of alcohol abuse can be medical, including high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes. Alcohol’s negative interaction with medication also puts seniors at a higher risk for health issues. Dehydration from alcohol abuse can be a factor in the hospitalisation of a senior with a drinking problem.
Increased Sensitivity to Alcohol with Aging
Older adults experience a lowered tolerance when drinking alcohol. This change can result in intoxication after smaller amounts are consumed. This change also can lead to accidents and injuries after alcohol is consumed. Some factors in the higher sensitivity to alcohol with aging come from less muscle to absorb alcohol, a longer absorption period, and a lower amount of water in the body.
Signs of Chemical Dependency in Older Adults
Physical signs and the emergence of health conditions can suggest a senior is abusing alcohol. As alcohol lowers the body’s sensitivity to insulin, the development of diabetes can be a sign of alcohol abuse. High blood pressure and the results of it (kidney failure, heart attacks, decreased libido, etc.) can be signs of a senior abusing alcohol, too. Other medical conditions caused by years of heavy drinking may be fatty liver disease and cirrhosis. Alcohol abuse affects the bones as well, and a senior may show signs of osteoporosis or break bones relatively easily.
Alcohol’s Interactions with Medications
Seniors tend to be more likely to be on daily medications. Mixing alcohol with these medications can lead to health complications. Even over-the-counter products can have negative consequences when taken with an alcoholic beverage.
Other Negative Effects of Chemical Dependency in Seniors
Drinking dehydrates the body, and excessive drinking can lead to dehydration requiring hospitalisation for a senior. If the drinking leads to vomiting, it can make the dehydration more severe as necessary fluids and electrolytes are lost. Untreated dehydration can lead to other serious consequences, such as seizures, brain swelling, coma, and death.
Memory loss can be a sign of alcohol abuse in older adults. Mood disorders, including depression, can appear as well. If a senior abusing alcohol already experienced symptoms of depression or anxiety, those symptoms can become more severe.
Helping a Senior Start Treatment for Chemical Dependency
Older adults can receive treatment for alcohol abuse to help them get on the road to recovery. Age-specific treatment is beneficial to older adults as they have experienced different life stages than their younger counterparts and can relate better to peers their own age. Family sessions can be integrated throughout treatment to ensure adequate support is available once the senior has completed a program. Continuing care should be a part of the recovery conversations early on to facilitate a sustainable recovery journey.
Silkworth can bring healing and hope to anyone affected by drink or drug addiction. The only Residential Treatment Centre in the Channel Islands, we offer a range of services to support you and your family back to a healthy quality of life. Silkworth Lodge has proven to be a much-needed establishment that helps people come to terms with their addiction and puts them on the road to recovery. We provide a tailor-made programme of treatment that helps the client to rebuild these relationships, regain their self-esteem, and most of all, enable them to integrate back into society on a new footing.Back to resources