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For National Recovery Month, a Look at Seniors & Addiction 

Since 1989, September has been designated as National Recovery Month, a time to celebrate those who are in recovery from addiction, honor those who support them, and encourage ongoing research into addiction and its treatment. 

This year’s celebration is divided into weekly themes, with September 11-17 focusing on ensuring that underrepresented communities have equal access to treatment. The guiding principles for the week are as follows (taken verbatim from the toolkit):

When recovery care and support reflect someone’s unique cultural values, they are more likely to succeed.

  • No matter where you are, no matter who you are, no one is alone in recovery.
  • Each person’s recovery journey is unique, and it should be based on their individual life goals and values.
  • With the right supports, tools, and resources, everyone can recover and lead a meaningful life.

In addition to people of color, rural residents, veterans, people with disabilities, and LGBTQI+ individuals, older adults are included in the list of those who do not always receive equitable care in addiction treatment. Why is this?

Ageism in Healthcare and Addiction Treatment

Ageism, discrimination against people based on their age, affects older adults when it comes to healthcare. According to the American Medical Association (AMA), ageism is a growing concern. Healthcare providers tend to dismiss seniors’ health concerns as being due to age and as a result may provide less care or consider older patients of lower priority. Older people are often excluded from research studies as well, meaning that doctors have less knowledge of their specific needs. 

Age-related barriers are also present in addiction treatment. Doctors may fail to screen older patients for addiction because they don’t believe they’ll benefit from treatment. Older adults may not have equal access to treatment if they are unable to drive or have disabilities that prevent them from qualifying for admission to a treatment center. Many treatment centers don’t accept senior clients, adding to the perception that “it’s too late” for these individuals to be helped. 

“Everyone Can Recover”

As National Recovery Month proclaims, everyone can recover from addiction and go on to lead a meaningful life if they have the resources and support they need. If you are a senior adult and struggling with addiction, it’s never too late. No matter when the addiction started, you can take back control and reconnect with the things in life that matter to you: people, work, hobbies, and more. 

Why Bother?

If you’re asking this question about your own or a loved one’s addiction, let’s look at some ways addiction affects seniors and what recovery will provide. 

According to the University of Michigan’s Department of Psychiatry, alcohol, prescription opioids, and prescription benzodiazepines are the most commonly misused substances among the elderly population. And older adults are particularly vulnerable to alcohol and drugs: “When older adults use drugs or alcohol, they’re at high risk for harmful drug interactions, cognitive decline, injury, sleep problems, mental health issues, memory problems, liver disease and cardiovascular disease.” 

The aging body metabolizes substances more slowly, and the brain is more sensitive to the effects of drugs. To further complicate the issue, the signs of substance use can mimic signs of aging: memory issues, lack of coordination, extreme moods, slow reaction times, and more. 

So what can substance use treatment do for older adults? According to the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry (AAGP),  older adults are often “better” at recovery than younger people–and by changing the way you use substances, you can feel better physically and mentally. You’ll get ill less frequently and have lower risk of developing or worsening disability. The AAGP offers more detail about seniors and substance misuse as well as a drinking pattern self-assessment at the end of the page. 

Help at Raleigh Oaks Behavioral Health

Studies suggest that older adults do better in recovery when they are in a recovery setting with people their age. Here in Garner, NC, we specialize in working with seniors who struggle with substance misuse and/or mental health issues. In our care, you’ll meet other seniors who understand what you’re going through, and together, you can work to rebuild your health and find hope and meaning for your future. It’s never too late. Contact our compassionate team today

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