Alcoholism is no stranger to our world. Most countries have encountered cases of alcohol dependence. Most communities are currently seeing the negative effects this substance has on some people’s lives. And most families have been impacted by alcohol use disorder. Many younger individuals have struggled with alcohol misuse. But, while it’s certainly important to make sure these individuals have helpful resources can be detrimental as there are many seniors who also suffer from alcoholism. This means alcohol rehab for seniors is absolutely necessary for our communities.
Table of Contents
What is Alcoholism?
Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder, is a condition in which a person excessively and uncontrollably uses alcohol. Those who suffer from alcohol use disorder depend on alcohol and feel unable to function properly without this substance. Often, individuals who struggle with alcoholism drink far more often and in larger doses than others.
Although alcohol is a legal substance and many people tend to enjoy a drink from time to time, some individuals struggle to limit themselves. This could be an indication that alcoholism is developing.
Some of the common signs of alcohol dependence, alcohol use disorder, or alcoholism include the following:
- Memory loss
- Inability to stop or limit drinking
- Social withdrawal and isolation
- Drinking first thing in the morning
- Secrecy (i.e. drinking in private or alone)
- Loss of interest in once enjoyable activities
- Prioritizing drinking alcohol over responsibilities
- Defensiveness when approached about drinking habits
- Drinking in dangerous situations (i.e. before driving, along with medications, etc.)
Individuals who experience some or all of these signs and symptoms are likely suffering from alcohol dependence or misuse. If you have noticed any of these signs in the life of an older adult that you know, it may be time to intervene and help the individual to enroll in an alcohol rehab program for seniors.
Alcoholism in Seniors: Statistics and Effects of Senior Alcoholism
It’s easy to assume that alcoholism and other substance use disorders are mainly prevalent in the lives of younger individuals. According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 11.0 million adults aged 26 or older had suffered from an alcohol use disorder within the past year. But, many of those adults who suffer from alcoholism are over the age of 65.
The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) states that “one-third of older alcoholic persons develop a problem with alcohol in later life”. Research states that alcohol is the most commonly used substance in the older population. The AAFP also states that approximately 6% of aging adults can be classified as heavy alcohol users.
Why Does Senior Alcohol Dependence Develop?
Alcohol use disorder occurs as a result of many different factors. Each individual is different and has varying experiences. So, the causes of substance dependence will be different from case to case. However, when it comes to older individuals, several factors may contribute to the development of an alcohol use disorder.
Many seniors who suffer from alcoholism have experienced great loss. They may have lost a spouse to illness. Or, their long-time friends may pass away. Many older individuals may lose adult children due to illnesses, violence, or other causes of death. In some cases, even the loss of a dear pet could be very difficult for older individuals. Any other type of companion or caregiver who passes away could also cause a very serious and overwhelming sense of grief to occur in the lives of senior men and women.
The loss of a loved one can leave older individuals alone. This is especially the case in cases where a close companion or caregiver dies. Also, as adult children get older and begin to move away from home, their older parents may feel lonely or empty. Even those who live in facilities or communities that are specially designed to accommodate the needs of older adults may begin to feel severely lonely.
Many older individuals are simply unsure about what to do as life changes. Retiring from the workforce can lead to inactivity and, frankly, boredom. It can be hard for people to find a new “normal”, especially after having worked or been extremely active in previous years. Transitioning into a life of retirement can cause older people to feel unsettled or leave them feeling empty.
Loneliness, uncertainty, and grief can all lead to the development of depression. Physical health conditions can also be another contributing factor. Many older individuals suffer from depression. In fact, the American Academy of Family Physicians reports that approximately 5 million Americans who are 65 years or older have clinical depression. According to the same report, about 1 million adults in this age range have major depression.
The same report says that depression has been seen in 17%-37% of older patients who received treatment in primary care settings. About 30% of these individuals have been diagnosed with major depression.
Depression can worsen, its symptoms becoming more and more severe. This can lead to many challenges and effects, including:
- Difficulty focusing
- Suicidal thoughts or attempts
- Overwhelming dissatisfaction
- A lack of interest in interpersonal activities
- An overall loss of motivation or inspiration
These symptoms and effects of depression can become overwhelming and decrease the quality of a person’s life. It can become even more challenging for older individuals to cope with these symptoms if they are also faced with physical illness, loneliness, or grief.
Unfortunately, many elderly individuals suffer from immense fear and worry. Anxiety and severe concerns may plague the hearts and minds of older people. Sometimes, this fear can come to older individuals who live alone. Or, elderly men and women may be overcome by concern or worry for their family members or for their own safety. Financial concerns might also become overwhelming for senior citizens as they are no longer working.
Turning to Alcohol for Help
Sadly, countless older adults are unsure about where to turn for help. They may not know how to get the support or companionship that they need as they suffer from the challenges we mentioned earlier. As a result, many individuals turn to substance use in order to cope with these difficulties. Alcohol is often to “solution” in many people’s lives. Unfortunately, this can cause damaging and life-altering effects to occur.
Alcohol often seems to provide relief and rescue from the negative emotions and obstacles that life presents. It’s not uncommon for people to drink alcohol in order to relax or feel more at ease. But, the truth is that this behavior can lead to alcohol dependence and cause people to develop alcohol use disorders.
When a person becomes dependent on alcohol, he or she may not feel able to cope with or manage the difficult situations that may arise. This might just lead to even more harmful habits and behaviors, including prescription drug misuse or illicit drug dependence.
Health Complications Due To Alcohol Use in Seniors
Many older individuals who suffer from alcohol misuse develop very serious health complications as a result of excessive alcohol use. Alcohol use disorder can contribute to, cause, or worsen the following health problems:
- Memory problems
- High blood pressure
- Liver diseases (i.e. cirrhosis)
- Depression and other mood disorders
Some older individuals who misuse alcohol may engage in risky or harmful activities. This might include driving or trying to manage machinery or equipment while under the influence of alcohol. Also, some elderly individuals may develop very serious problems if they mix alcohol with medications. Many individuals do not intentionally use alcohol along with prescriptions. For example, a person may forget that he or she took medication and may drink alcohol. This could lead to adverse and severe effects, some of which could be deadly.
Since the effects of alcoholism and excessive alcohol use can be so harmful, those who suffer from alcohol use disorder should seek help immediately.
It is highly important for seniors who suffer from the effects of alcohol misuse to have access to treatment services. Again, alcohol dependence can have a very major negative effect on the lives of older individuals. So, finding the right resources can help to prevent further physical damage and end substance dependence altogether. Here are some of the treatment services that may be a part of alcohol rehab for seniors:
The detoxification process usually involves a medication-assisted treatment process. A professional detox program can help to cleanse the body from the toxic and harmful properties of drugs and alcohol. Throughout this process, individuals can work through the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal in a safe environment. These symptoms can be very difficult to deal with and may even lead people to relapse in order to avoid them. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms might involve:
- Loss of appetite
- High blood pressure
- Sleeping disturbances
- Inability to think clearly
It’s best for those in recovery to go through a detox process as they work through withdrawal. This will ensure that recovering individuals have access to professional and medical assistance should withdrawal become overwhelming or even dangerous. Also, the medication involved in MAT can help to block or lessen the effects of withdrawal symptoms. This may make the process more comfortable for those who are working to recover from alcohol misuse.
Often, those who are working to end addiction can benefit quite a bit from inpatient treatment, Also known as residential care, this approach to addiction treatment offers people the option to live at their addiction recovery facility.
Doing so can allow people to have access to 24/7, around-the-clock care. It also helps to create a healthy distance between individuals and any outside factors that could lead to a relapse. This enables people to develop relapse prevention skills and the other experiences they will need in order to remain free from substance dependence after treatment.
Also known as an IOP, an intensive outpatient program can be considered as a step down from residential treatment. Although individuals do not live at their treatment center, they still have access to care and treatment on an intensive level. Individuals may receive treatment between 9 and 12 hours every week.
Those in an IOP may continue living at home while getting treatment. This might allow them to go to work or enjoy life with family while they are not in treatment. Intensive outpatient programs usually involve therapeutic services, like those offered in residential care.
Just as is the case with intensive outpatient treatment, outpatient care does not require people to live at a treatment center. Instead, individuals may continue living at home while getting treatment several hours per week.
Outpatient treatment enables people to hold jobs, tend to various responsibilities, or comfortably live at home while still benefitting from addiction treatment services. However, this approach is not usually recommended for those who have what might be considered “severe” cases of addiction. Instead, people may enter outpatient programs after going through detox and residential care.
Therapy is also involved in this type of treatment. Individuals can continue to benefit from individual therapy, group therapy, and even family counseling. Individuals in an outpatient addiction treatment program can continue to receive care and even transition through a sober living program.
How to Help an Older Loved One Who Is Struggling
If you’ve noticed signs of alcoholism in the life of an older loved one, you may be unsure about how to help. It can be difficult to know how and when to intervene. But, there are several things you can keep in mind in order to make the best choices as far as this matter is concerned.
It’s important to take special note of negative or unhelpful terminology when it comes to substance dependence. It is imperative that you and your family avoid referring to your struggling loved one as an alcoholic. Also, be sure that you learn more about addiction and how it affects those who suffer from it. The idea that substance dependence is a choice rather than a disease or a disorder can be extremely harmful. It can also prevent you from being able to truly help your family member.
Continue to respect your elderly loved one. Those who suffer from substance use disorders often experience quite a few physical and emotional changes. But, if you continue to offer love and respect to your older family member throughout his or her transitions, you will find that it tremendously helps your loved one to feel supported.
Be honest with your family member about your concerns. If you’re concerned about his or her safety, it’s best to say so. Inform the individual of the effects his or her alcoholism is having on your family. Bear in mind, though, that the person may not be aware of these issues. So hearing about them may cause the individual to feel guilty, ashamed, or even upset by these conversations. Be prepared to offer support and reassurance. But, also, be prepared to offer solutions.
One of the main and most helpful solutions to addiction is professional treatment. Be sure to present this option.
Finding the Support and Guidance You Need
If you have an older loved one who is suffering from alcohol use disorder, there is no time like the present to help him or her to find hope. Here at Sana Lake Recovery Center, we are committed to offering individuals the resources they need in order to end substance use and dependence.
Programs that offer alcohol rehab for seniors can be extremely helpful and even necessary for elderly individuals. Alcohol use disorder affects seniors differently than it affects younger individuals. So, it’s important for older adults to get treatment from a program that takes their individual and unique needs into account.
At Sana Lake, our goal is to assist our members in finding support and guidance that will address their physical and emotional needs throughout recovery. So, whether your aging loved one needs detoxification services, residential treatment, outpatient treatment, or an intensive outpatient program, we can help!
To learn more about our services or how we can assist you and your family, just contact us today. Our trained and knowledgeable staff is here and ready to help bring hope and healing to the situation your loved one is facing. Now is the time to bring a positive change to your family member’s life. We are dedicated to helping throughout this process!