Contrary to popular belief, substance abuse is not limited to one type of person but affects millions of people from many different backgrounds. As the USA population ages, more and more people are using prescription painkillers to treat a number of different age-related ailments. Many of these people become physically dependent on the powerful narcotics prescribed to them by their doctor. They have no way to just quit the drug, because they’ve build up a tolerance to it. Their body needs the chemicals to function properly. The substance abuse of older Americans is a pressing issue that doesn’t seem to be getting much media coverage.
Prescription drug abuse among older people has become a very serious issue in recent years. According to drugfree.org and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), about one third of Americans (between 57 and 85) use at least five prescription drugs. Between 1997 and 2008, the rate of hospital admissions for conditions related to prescription medications and illicit drug use rose by 96% among people ages 65 and 84. For people aged 85 and up, admissions grew 87%.
Alcohol is also consumed in large quantities by many older Americans. Many people hear the words “binge drinking” and they immediately think of a college frat party with people chugging beer from a keg. That’s really not the case. In fact, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a fact sheet on their website which highlighted the fact that the 65+ age group binge drinks most often. According to the survey, binge drinkers aged 65 years and older report binge drinking on average of five to six times a month. The combination of alcohol and prescription drugs is even more deadly than just alcohol alone. Combining alcohol and prescription painkillers can be deadly and it impairs the user, leading to more injuries. According to this article, 14% of all hip fractures for adults over 60 were attributed to mixing prescription drugs and alcohol.
There are many reasons why someone may abuse drugs and/or alcohol. Many seniors are already dealing with the effects of aging by taking prescription drugs to help with pain. This need for pain medication combined with other factors leads to an older, adult population with a serious drug issue. Illness, lifestyle changes, being separated from friends and family, and even deaths of close friends can all be factors that force an older person to cope using drugs and alcohol. It’s important to remember that drug and alcohol addiction can happen to anyone – from teenagers to the elderly.