The Opioid Epidemic in Older Adults: Getting Help for Mom or Dad

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The Opioid Epidemic in Older Adults: Getting Help for Mom or Dad

When you picture an opioid abuser, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Perhaps you envision a young man injecting heroin or trying to buy drugs in the back alley of a big city. However, the extent of the opioid epidemic is far more widespread than that.

As the baby boomer generation ages and the population of older adults in the United States grows, opioid misuse among older Americans is becoming an increasingly acute public health concern. According to a recent report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, nearly 125,000 hospitalizations among older Americans involved opioid-related diagnoses in 2015.

As statistics like these make abundantly clear, no one is too old to struggle with substance misuse. The highly addictive nature of opioid drugs puts anyone who takes them at risk of getting hooked, even with short-term use.

How Older People Fall Prey to Opioid Addiction

Doctors are more likely to prescribe opioid drugs to older adults. Chronic conditions such as arthritis become more common with age, and often require the use of painkillers. Older people may also take prescription opioids to relieve pain after medical procedures such as back or knee surgery.

Unfortunately, even when someone is using an opioid legally and for a genuine medical need, that does not make these drugs innocuous. It doesn’t take long to develop a physical dependency and higher tolerance for opioid-based medications. An aging patient who has been taking opioid painkillers under a doctor’s orders may unwittingly begin abusing them without realizing they’ve entered dangerous territory.

Also, many people remain unaware of how big of a risk it can be to mix opioid medicines with other prescription drugs. For example, taking an opioid in conjunction with other commonly prescribed medications such as Xanax can be deadly. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports nearly 30 percent of overdoses involving opioids also involve a prescription sedative.

Warning Signs of Opioid Addiction

Opioid misuse refers to any occasion where someone is not following the prescription for their medication, including:

  • Taking the drug more frequently or in higher doses than originally prescribed
  • Using the drug in pursuit of pleasure, instead of to alleviate pain
  • Mixing the medication with other drugs or alcohol
  • Taking someone else’s prescription medication

Substance abuse problems manifest in both emotional and physical ways. Someone who’s developed a dependency on painkillers may keep taking them long after the pain is gone, because scaling back their use or quitting cold turkey can bring about some deeply unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, including the risk of death.

The Myth of Low Addiction Risk

While most people are aware the opioid epidemic is a significant issue in the U.S., there is still a lack of awareness around how pervasive opioid use is in older people. It’s easy to assume older adults are not at risk for getting hooked on drugs because they don’t fit the stereotype of a typical drug user who becomes addicted in pursuit of their next “high.”

Many doctors who prescribe opioid painkillers for their older patients do so under the misconception that there’s little to no danger of this demographic developing a dependency. Not only are they more likely to prescribe these medications to help manage chronic pain, but they may prescribe them in higher doses or longer periods of use, and fail to monitor these patients for signs of misuse and addiction.

However, the idea that older adults have built-in protection against developing an addiction, or that seniors are inherently a low-risk segment of the population, is a myth. Addiction can happen to anyone, at any age. Opioid use changes brain chemistry – regardless of how old the brain is.

Opioid Interventions for Older Adults

If you’re worried about opioid use for an aging parent, seek help as soon as possible. Substance abuse is not a problem that goes away on its own or gets better over time. Opioid addiction is an all-consuming condition that requires professional medical attention to overcome.

Older people might think addiction is a problem that only happens to younger people, or they might assume it’s impossible to become dependent on a legally prescribed medication. And, having lived a long and healthy life, they may feel acutely ashamed to realize they’ve begun misusing prescription drugs. We know how difficult it can be for an older person to admit they need help for an addiction, but qualified intervention specialists can help save lives by leading the way for individuals to begin the recovery process.

At Intervention 911, we are internationally acclaimed experts at helping people break free from the deadly cycle of addiction. Led by founder and board-registered interventionist Ken Seeley, Intervention 911 uses a proven process that has a consistently high success rate. Contact us today to discover your solution to opioid abuse in an aging parent.

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