Chronic pain and social isolation can complicate efforts to curb substance misuse in America’s older population.
As doctors, public health officials and community-based groups work to curb the nation’s drug crisis, concerns are rising that older adults may be falling through the cracks.
Although rates of alcohol and drug abuse have generally been lower among older adults, the number of people 50 and older who have a substance use disorder is projected to reach 5.7 million by 2020. Older adults also often face problems such as chronic pain, social isolation and mobility issues that can make it harder to identify and treat addiction.
Prescription drugs are a major driver of substance misuse among older adults, but these patients are often reluctant to change their habits or medication regimens, Kate Lufkin, a cognitive behavioral therapist with Ochsner Health System, said this week at the Aging in America Conference in New Orleans.
“Older adults have a combination of painful diagnoses, social changes, psychological considerations and physical limitations,” Lufkin said. “They also process alcohol and medications differently. … Mood-altering substances in older adults can mimic dementia, diabetes and depression.”