The New Addiction Generation: Why Seniors Are At Risk For Addiction


Addiction has become a serious problem in the United States and the rest of the world but not many are discussing the opioid epidemic that is sweeping across the seniors and elderly. Seniors have become the new silent victims of addiction.

According to Dr. Joseph Garbely of the Caron Treatment Centers, addiction to opioid is growing among seniors and “the problem is ubiquitous.” He explains that family members and doctors can easily miss the signs of a growing addiction or abuse of prescription drugs and fail to ask the right questions to assess the condition and health of a patient or parent.

The story of Jerry is a classic example. Jerry is 75 and a grandfather. He is married and lives with his wife but he is a secret alcoholic. Laura, an addiction specialist says her case load consists of 30 seniors addicted to opioids. She says that these men and women did not intent to become addicts. They trusted their doctors and did not bother to ask questions. Laura believes at the current rate, the number of seniors addicted to opioids will more than double by 2020.

In Pennsylvania, there is a special program just for seniors addicted to a substance and the program allocates 10 beds which are always full. The facility has had to plan an expansion to 14 more beds to keep up with the demand.

Why Seniors are Vulnerable

Seniors are particularly vulnerable for several reasons. One, they grew up at a time when you don’t question your doctors so many seniors simply follow instructions. It doesn’t help that today doctors rush through their appointments so unless a patient is quick on the uptake, he or she may not be able to ask everything they want. Unfortunately, they can be forgetful and take the wrong dosage that could start the road down to addiction.

Two, many turn to alcohol, gambling, or food to fight loneliness and it can get out of control without them being aware of it. Three, family members are too busy with their own lives to notice a change in diet, habits, or demeanor. Often, they would attribute behavior idiosyncrasies to old age.

What Family Members Can Do

Addiction among seniors is almost always by accident which means it is preventable. One way to prevent it is by monitoring the senior regularly and keeping records of the maintenance drugs taken. Another way is to be there when the senior has his regular consultation with his doctor so you can be involved in the care and wellbeing.

A third way would be to have a professional come in regularly to check the senior at home especially if the senior lives alone or prefers to stay away from the rest of those in the house. This professional should be a nurse so the medical aspect is taken care as well as the emotional and mental health since nurses are trained to spot potential health issues before they become serious conditions.

It would also be a good idea to engage the senior so there is some kind of social aspect that he or she can look forward to.