At Cambridge Court in Kearney, Nebraska, we believe it's important for seniors to know about the latest trends in health and medicine. Although addiction is typically thought of as a problem that affects young and middle-aged adults, it's actually a major concern for older Americans, with the National Institute on Drug Abuse reporting that nearly 1 million adults aged 65 and older were living with a substance use disorder in 2018. Once you understand the scope of the problem, you can start taking steps to reduce your risk.
As you age, you go through physical and mental changes that may make you more susceptible to developing a substance use disorder. For example, you may develop a chronic health condition that causes significant pain. If your doctor prescribes opioid pain medications, there's a chance you'll become dependent on them, leading to an opioid addiction that's difficult to manage.
Social isolation is another factor that makes some seniors more likely to develop alcohol or drug addictions as they age. Retirement, divorce and the death of a spouse are all major changes that can occur during this stage in your life, and they can all make you feel lonely or cause you to wonder about your purpose. Some older adults turn to drinking or using drugs as a way to cope with these feelings.
Several risk factors increase your risk of addiction as you age. One of the most significant is a family history of addiction. Scientists believe that addiction has a genetic component, which means you have a higher risk of developing a substance use disorder if your parent, sibling or grandparent ever had an addiction to alcohol or drugs.
You have a higher risk of developing a substance use disorder as you age if you used drugs or alcohol when you were young. Researchers believe that using drugs at a young age causes changes in your brain that make you more likely to develop an addiction when you're older; the earlier you start using, the higher your risk.
Addiction and a history of mental health disorders often go hand in hand. Depression, generalized anxiety disorder and attention-deficit disorder may all cause feelings of inadequacy or loneliness, causing you to withdraw from social activities and avoid your loved ones. When you feel isolated by your symptoms, you may turn to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism.
Researchers have identified a link between trauma and the risk of developing a substance use disorder. The earlier this trauma occurs, the more likely it is that someone will develop an addiction as the result of it. Physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect are just some of the types of trauma that increase the risk of developing an addiction later in life.
Whether you're concerned about a loved one or wondering if you might have a substance use disorder, there are certain signs and symptoms you should know about.
• Weight loss
• Loss of appetite
• Frequent falls
• Blacking out
• Slurred speech
• Social withdrawal
• Secretive behavior
• Irritability when not using alcohol or drugs
• Poor hygiene
If you're concerned about a loved one, you may notice that they have money problems after many years of financial stability. Bounced checks, late payments and asking friends and family members to borrow money are all potential signs of addiction, especially if your loved one has always paid their bills on time. Legal problems are also common among people with substance use disorders. If your loved one is suddenly getting arrested for driving under the influence or engaging in disorderly conduct, addiction could be the culprit.
You can't change your family history or reverse a history of early drug and alcohol use, but there are many things you can do to reduce your risk of addiction as you get older.
Staying in your assisted living apartment all the time isn't good for your physical or mental health. Because social isolation can lead to a substance use disorder, it's important to maintain strong social connections and spend time with other people. Kearney, Nebraska, has plenty to offer, from the Museum of Nebraska Art to the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument. Make time for hobby groups, long walks and other activities around town to stay busy and reduce your risk of addiction.
If you have symptoms of an underlying medical or mental health disorder, seek treatment as soon as possible. Your doctor may be able to prescribe something to control your symptoms and improve your overall quality of life. If you have anxiety or depression, you may even be able to attend a support group or seek therapy from a licensed mental health counselor, giving you a healthy outlet for your emotions.
If your doctor prescribes opioids or other medications with a high level of addictive potential, take them exactly as prescribed. The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends limiting opioid use to no longer than one week, if possible, but you should check with your doctor before discontinuing any prescribed medications. If you're concerned about dependence, ask your doctor about alternative medications with a lower addictive potential.