Drug overdose is a leading cause of death in the United States, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the opioid-related overdose death rate soared 17.2% from 2016 to 2017 in adults 65 and older. As this epidemic continues to spread throughout the country, there is no one-size-fits-all form of addiction.
Treating addiction in older patients can present its own, unique set of challenges:
- Older adults have a combination of painful diagnoses, social changes, psychological considerations and physical limitations. And they’re often reluctant to change their habits or medication regimens. For these reasons, it can be harder to identify and treat addiction.
- There are many risk factors for older adults. Family or personal history of addiction increases the risk that an older person will develop a substance use problem, but there are also many other risk factors, including having mental health issues or a disability, being hospitalized, living in a long-term care facility or having chronic pain.
- Their bodies process alcohol and medications differently. Mood-altering substances in older adults can sometimes mimic dementia, diabetes and depression, making diagnosis difficult.
- It may be difficult for them to access doctors with appropriate experience. Older adults who live in rural areas may struggle to find doctors with experience treating addiction, and many programs that are available are designed for younger, otherwise healthy people who don’t need to be treated for other health problems that may plague older adults.
- Pain impacts people differently. Healthcare professionals should always try to manage their patients’ pain appropriately and ensure they’re using their medications as directed. We know that opioid pain medications are not appropriate for treating long term pain, but some patients may be resistant to changing their regimen if they feel that their medications are helping them live their lives. The biggest hurdle is getting people to say, “Maybe I am taking this inappropriately. Maybe there is a better way.” What they're thinking is, “My doctor gave this to me and I feel better. Why would I stop?” We need to help them get to a place where they realize the negative impact that their medications are having on their lives and their pain experience and help them figure out a better and more appropriate treatment.
If you or someone you know needs help for substance abuse problems, call 1-800-622-HELP.
To schedule an appointment with Ochsner’s Addictive Behavior Unit, call 504-842-3999 or toll free 800-231-1969.