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July 05, 2023 5 min read

Introduction

Some reports estimated substance abuse disorders among people over 50 would hit 5.7 million in 2020. That’s more than double the number in 2006. It's been called the "invisible epidemic."

When you age, your body reacts differently to alcohol. You may get drunk on less, and it takes longer to wear off. Alcohol interacts with many drugs that older people take. And it can make many medical conditions worse, such as: Diabetes, High blood pressure, Dementia, Depression.

Experts recommend that older people have no more than seven alcoholic drinks per week. More than that could signal problem drinking.

Among people 50 and up with substance abuse problems, men are more likely to abuse alcohol. Women are more likely to abuse prescription drugs. You're at a higher risk of abusing drugs or alcohol in your later years if you: are white, have a higher income, live alone, lost your spouse, retired unexpectedly, or were laid off, have long-lasting (chronic) pain, are disabled, have a history of substance abuse or mental illness

Someone who is abusing prescription drugs will need more medicine than they used to. Those with an alcohol problem might start to drink alone or be secretive about drinking. Other warning signs include:

slurred speech, unexplained injuries and bruises, memory loss or confusion, sleep problems, mood swings, anxiety or depression, loss of interest in things they once enjoyed, poor hygiene, and less contact with friends and family.

Family, friends, and doctors often don't know when older people have a problem with alcohol and drugs. It's easy to mistake some symptoms for normal signs of aging. Once you retire, problem drinking or drug use doesn't interfere with your job. And more time alone makes it easier to hide substance use. Sometimes, people notice but ignore it, thinking it’s best for older people to keep doing what makes them happy.

People face big changes later in life. They may feel stress and anxiety due to: retirement, loss of loved ones, loneliness, sleep problems, family conflicts, financial concerns

Some turn to alcohol or drugs to soothe worries and fill the time. Also, baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) came of age when opinions about alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs were changing. Some kept those views as they aged.  

Addiction in Older Americans

Addiction and substance abuse can indeed be a problem among older Americans. While substance abuse is often associated with younger individuals, it can affect people of all ages, including older adults.

In fact, substance abuse among older Americans is a growing concern due to various factors, such as increased life expectancy, the aging of the baby boomer generation, and the potential for age-related health issues.

Several factors contribute to substance abuse in older adults:

  • Prescription medications: Older individuals may develop addiction issues with prescription medications, particularly opioids, benzodiazepines, and sleep aids, which are commonly prescribed for pain management, anxiety, and sleep problems.
  • Alcohol misuse: Alcohol misuse and alcohol use disorders can affect older adults, especially if they turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism for loneliness, depression, or other life changes associated with aging.
  • Late-onset substance abuse: Some older adults may develop substance abuse problems later in life due to retirement, loss of a loved one, physical health issues, or a sense of boredom or purposelessness.
  • Self-medication: Older adults may misuse substances to self-medicate for physical or emotional pain, such as chronic pain, anxiety, or depression, without seeking proper medical or psychological help.
  • Interactions with medications: Older adults may be taking multiple medications for various health conditions, and substance abuse can lead to dangerous interactions and adverse effects.
  • Substance abuse in older adults can have severe consequences, including impaired physical and cognitive functioning, increased risk of falls and injuries, exacerbation of existing health conditions, mental health issues, and a decline in overall quality of life.
  • It's crucial to address addiction and substance abuse among older Americans through appropriate prevention, intervention, and treatment strategies. Healthcare professionals, caregivers, and family members should be vigilant in recognizing the signs of substance abuse and providing support and resources to those in need.

Can CBD Help Older Americans Suffering from Substance Abuse Issues? 

The potential role of CBD (cannabidiol) in helping older Americans with substance abuse issues is still being explored, and scientific research on this specific topic is limited. However, I can provide some general information about CBD and its potential implications for substance abuse in older adults.

  • Craving reduction: Some studies suggest that CBD may affect the brain's reward system and help reduce drug cravings. This could potentially be beneficial for older adults struggling with substance abuse issues. However, more research is needed to determine the effectiveness of CBD in reducing cravings and preventing relapse in this population.
  • Anxiety and stress management: CBD has been studied for its anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) properties and its potential to reduce stress levels. Since anxiety and stress can be triggers for substance abuse, CBD's ability to alleviate these symptoms might indirectly support recovery efforts. However, individual responses to CBD can vary, and it should not be considered a standalone treatment for substance abuse.
  • Sleep improvement: Sleep disturbances are common among individuals with substance abuse issues. CBD has been explored for its potential to improve sleep quality and address insomnia. By promoting better sleep, CBD might help support recovery and overall well-being in older adults struggling with substance abuse.
  • Co-occurring conditions: Many individuals with substance abuse issues also have co-occurring conditions such as chronic pain, anxiety, or depression. CBD has shown promise in managing these conditions, potentially reducing the reliance on substances for symptom relief. However, it's essential to work with healthcare professionals to develop a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses both substance abuse and any underlying conditions.
  • Safety considerations: CBD is generally well-tolerated, but it can interact with certain medications. Older adults, who may be taking multiple medications, should consult with their healthcare provider before using CBD to ensure it does not interfere with their current treatment regimen.

It's important to note that CBD should not be viewed as a standalone solution for substance abuse issues. Addiction is a complex condition that requires comprehensive treatment, including therapy, support groups, and medical interventions. It is crucial for older adults with substance abuse issues to seek professional help and develop an individualized treatment plan tailored to their specific needs.

What Families Can Do

If you're worried about an older loved one's use of alcohol or drugs, talk to them about it. Be direct, but be kind and don’t judge. They might not realize they need help. They may say they are fine. But encourage them to talk to their doctor. If that doesn't work, consider asking their doctor, minister, or a longtime friend to approach them instead.