Addiction: And The Elderly
Friday, May 15th, 2009
Arguably, much of the coverage relating to addiction surrounds our younger members of the population. On a regular basis the media is often awash with reports discussing the where’s and what for’s relating to binge drinking. With that in mind, there is a danger that those most vulnerable are indeed forgotten about, regardless to gender, age or social status.
Overall, the over 65’s receive the least coverage than that of any other social group within the UK. Notwithstanding this group also share the same needs as any other, and are equally susceptible to the problems of addiction as their younger counterparts.
With this in mind it will now become relevant to discuss the various type of addiction older people face. Beating Addictions argue ‘In marked contrast to the younger members of society, senior citizens are less likely to become addicted to illegal substances. Older people are less likely to come into contact with dealers and the social groups associated with drugs. They also tend to have stronger reservations about experimenting with illegal substances. Therefore, addictions among the elderly tend to be reserved to legal substances and behaviours.’
It is understood that alcohol is a common addiction with our older population in the UK. The reasons that are presented are that firstly alcohol is cheap and also easily accessible. It is also thought as acceptable to keep in the home.
Statistically, it is uncertain what proportion of the elderly are alcoholics in the UK, but it is thought to be between 17 percent among men, and seven percent among women. One reason presented by Beating Addictions is that ‘it is hard to detect alcoholism in the elderly is that older people tend not to admit to such problems as readily as younger people. This is an important consideration, as alcoholism in later life is far more dangerous than when we are young. Organs such as our liver are less able to cope with large quantities of alcohol in old age. And those who carry their alcoholism into old age are likely to suffer from a range of related illnesses. Amongst long term alcoholics, it is likely that their alcoholism will prove fatal.’
Fundamentally, the over 65’s are probably are more susceptible to addiction to prescription drugs. Painkillers and sedatives, often prescribed by a doctor to treat one problem, can be very addictive, and become a problem in their own right. Again, in old age our bodies are less able to cope with large doses of painkillers and other medicines. Addictions to these medicines can lead to kidney failure, cardiovascular disorders, and a range of other potentially fatal problems. Again, it can be difficult to detect these addictions among the elderly, as older people often bear a greater degree of guilt than their younger counterparts,’ according to Beating Addictions.
It has been suggested that the most common of all the addictions within the elderly group is that of nicotine addiction. As stated by Beating Addictions, ‘an addiction to cigarettes is commonly formed much earlier in life, and most elderly smokers will have been smoking for many years. The harmful effects of smoking are massively more damaging in old age, with cigarette addiction being linked to heart disease, lung disorders, stroke, cancers and even mental illness.
It is also more difficult for older people to give up smoking, as the habit has become so firmly entrenched. Perhaps for this reason, amongst some elderly smokers there is a sense of resignation: Why give up now, they ask, as we all have to die of something? This rather pessimistic logic ignores the fact that many elderly people live longer, happier lives once they are free from addiction, and that the diseases incurred by smoking can be the most painful and least treatable of all the diseases of later life.’
Ultimately the elderly are indeed susceptible to a varied amount of addictions. From that point of view, their quality of life may very well be compromised. Beating Addictions offer advice and support for the over 65’s in relation to legal substance misuse, whilst recognising this, they also are aware that other types of addiction may just be as harmful. Identifying some behavioural issues such as gambling can be extremely harmful to our older members of society.
According to Beating Addictions, ‘f you have elderly relatives, the best way to reduce their vulnerability to addiction is to talk to them, and spend time with them. One of the most common complaints among older people is loneliness, and they can often turn to addiction in answer to being alone. Talking can encourage people to open up a little, so be aware: Relatives might be happier admitting a problem or addiction to you than to a health professional.