A fact that many addiction awareness activists stress is that the disease of addiction does not discriminate. They speak about how a person can become afflicted with the disease of addiction regardless of his/her nationality, profession, economic status, or family cohesion. Age is a factor that is overlooked in that concept. Our mental image of an individual suffering from addiction is not someone who is typically of the elderly population.

Factors that Contribute to Elderly Developing Addiction

Let’s face it; getting old is not fun. There are many changes that occur in an elderly person’s life: retirement, loss of loved ones, financial challenges, moving, health problems, etc. These changes put great distress on an elderly person. At any age, stress or trauma can ignite an unhealthy habit for stress relief or escape. These life stressors increase the risk of an elderly person developing an addiction.

Health problems are a natural process that increases with age. A plethora of prescription drugs are prescribed to the elderly population and continue to rise. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc., 30% of the elderly population are prescribed prescription medicine [1]. Additionally, 17% of senior citizens are affected by substance abuse or misuse of prescription drugs [2].

In 2006, many baby boomers turned sixty years-old. This generation has already been exposed to a great amount of alcohol and drug use in their youth. Therefore, a perspective that is prevalent among that generation is that alcohol and drugs are panaceas. A surge in substance abuse is expected to be seen in that generation as a result.

A Difficult Diagnosis

Addiction is a challenge to diagnose in an elderly person. The symptoms of addiction are often comparable to other physical or mental problems that are prevalent among the elderly population such as diabetes, dementia, or depression. Because of this, doctors do not always thoroughly examine the reasons behind the faltering physical or mental health of an elderly person the same way they assess these issues in a younger individual. According to an article written by Dr. Richard A. Friedman for The New York Times, doctors have the propensity to automatically assume that an elderly person’s age is the reason behind his/her faltering health [3].

Signs and Symptoms of Addiction in the Elderly

Due to addiction already being a difficult diagnosis in the elderly, it is critical for a person to be cognizant of the symptoms of addiction in an elderly loved one. Elderly people suffering from addiction may display signs in their lifestyle such as a desire to be alone frequently, poor hygiene, not staying in contact with people, losing interest in typical activities, and sporadic sleeping and eating habits. Elderly people suffering from addiction may show physical symptoms such as chronic pain and bruises that have no explanation and trouble with memory. Emotional symptoms such as irritability and depression may be displayed as well.

What to Do For an Elderly Person Suffering from Addiction

Addiction poses even more of a danger to an elderly person. They are more likely to suffer severe physical consequences that come from abusing substances. An elderly person cannot metabolize drugs or alcohol as easily as a younger person. Their brains are more sensitive to drugs or alcohol. It is unhealthy for an elderly person to use drugs or alcohol on occasion, let alone a regular basis.

If an addiction is recognized in an elderly person, it is critical for it to be addressed. Help can be found at a treatment center that specializes in or at least has experience in treating addiction in senior citizens. Proper case management is a significant component in his/her treatment because it renders appropriate resources for the elderly person suffering from addiction during and after treatment.

Addiction is a difficult disease to combat at any age. A person suffering from it in the final years of his/her life makes it even more heartbreaking. The similarity between addiction in younger individuals and elderly individuals is that there is hope for recovery.


  1. https://www.addictioncenter.com/addiction/elderly/
  2. http://www.hazeldenbettyford.org/articles/substance-abuse-among-the-elderly-a-growing-problem
  3. https://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/29/a-rising-tide-of-mental-distress/
  4. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/prescription-drugs/trends-in-prescription-drug-abuse/older-adults