There is always a lot of focus in the media on the drug addiction problems of young people. The reality is that drug addiction is something that affects every age group, and there has been a rapid increase in the number of people over fifty dealing with the problem. There was an article this week in the Huffington Post discussing the escalating problem of drug addiction problems among ‘baby boomers’ – people born between 1946 and 1964.
Some who are dealing with addiction after the age of fifty have been abusing these substances for most of their lives. This type of person is often referred to as a ‘hardy survivor’ because typically alcohol and drug addicts are at high risk of dying young. There are also plenty of people who may have never had any problems with addiction before, but who end up becoming addicted after the age of fifty.
Some of the most common reasons why older people begin abusing alcohol or drugs include:
- living alone and turning to substance abuse in an attempt to deal with their loneliness – this is particularly likely to happen with men
- those who have not planned for their retirement can suddenly be faced with a great deal of spare time on their hands; they fill it with alcohol and drugs
- those who have retired may feel they have the right to let their hair down, but this can put them at risk of addiction
- if the older person is estranged from their family, they may turn to substance abuse as a form of solace
- some people can develop mental health problems as they get older, they may turn to alcohol or drugs as a form of self-medication
- the individual may turn to these substances in order to help them cope with bereavement
- people can end up abusing drugs to help them cope with their fear of death
- a high number of people over fifty slip into addiction due to abusing prescription medication.
Prescription medication is a huge problem in the over fifty crowd, second only to alcohol. In the majority of cases, the individual will not have intended to end up abusing these drugs. They may have been originally prescribed opiates or sedatives to help them deal with symptoms. In the beginning, the individual would have been using these substances purely for the sake of dealing with symptoms but somewhere along the way they realised that they enjoyed the pleasant side effects of the drugs. This means the individual crossed the line from taking the substance under doctor’s order to taking it recreationally.
Drug addiction is dangerous at any age but it can be particularly dangerous for those over the age of fifty because:
- as people get older their body and mind is less able to deal with the negative effects of alcohol and drugs; this means more damage is caused by these substances
- many older people live alone so their substance abuse can go unnoticed
- the addiction assessment tools are designed to recognise the symptoms in young people, so they are less good at diagnosing problems in older people
- doctors may be less willing to recommend addiction treatment for people over the age of sixty-five
- there can be a sentiment among friends and family that this person has worked hard all their life and they should be allowed to do what they want now
- the older person may be embarrassed about admitting to their problem.