When you hear the term “substance abuse,” what age range comes to mind? Perhaps you first think of adolescents or young adults. You may be surprised to hear that alcoholism within the older adult population is on the rise. In fact, research shows that by 2020, a total of 5.7 million seniors will be struggling with alcoholism. Substance abuse is often overlooked within our older adult population. During Alcohol Awareness Month in April, we want to highlight this topic.
The dramatic rise in alcohol abuse stems from the unique challenges that come with aging. As people age and retire, they might begin to drink earlier in the day or more often. When facing depression and hopelessness, alcohol is sometimes used to bandage the pain. Other reasons may stem from the need for pain management, coping with other disabilities or having difficulty sleeping.
The following are ways to recognize substance abuse in yourself or a loved one:
• Defensiveness when asked about drinking
• Drinking in the early hours of the day
• Increased confusion, disorientation, forgetfulness
• Failing to engage in normal routine, hobbies, etc.
• Frequently unreachable, turning down events they normally enjoy
• Suspicious or dishonest behaviors
It is common for family members to become deeply affected by a loved one’s substance abuse. Being under the influence of alcohol can result in poor decisions related to health and wellness. Former healthy lifestyle decisions may be abandoned, leaving family members feeling tense and upset. Another concern among families is the risk of suicide, and/or depression that comes with excessive drinking.
Therapeutic intervention can create a positive impact on alcoholism within the older adult population. It may be difficult for someone struggling with substance abuse to turn to a family member or friend. Counseling offers unbiased guidance and a safe place to have an outlet. Treatment in counseling may include: screening for signs of depression, assessing for suicide risk and exploring the root of drinking problem. People often find that counseling leads to identifying barriers to a healthier lifestyle. Self-awareness is the key to healing. Reach out to a counselor in your community that has experience working with the aging population; after all, seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Laurie Thompson, LMHCA
Laurie is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor Associate and behavior consultant for Washington State, local facilities and private clients in our community. As a member of the South Sound Alzheimer’s Council, she is an active advocate for families throughout Thurston, Mason and Grays Harbor counties. Laurie is passionate about walking with clients through their entire journey and navigating the unique experiences that come along the way. She works with clients that are in transition and facilitates support groups for older adults. Laurie meets with families to consult about placement, treatment options, family problem solving and other areas related to aging.
Published on April 4, 2019.