How to Cope with Addiction in Seniors

You suspect that your elder loved one is suffering from drug abuse or addiction.

You suspect that your elder loved one is suffering from drug abuse or addiction.

What do you do?

It’s hard to even think about this or believe it and when it seems like it is likely, it’s even harder to act. None of us want to admit there might be a problem with a loved one and such a realization can bring up many fears, doubts and questions. But, you are never alone in trying to face such things and there are deliberate, sensible steps to help you cope with the problem and find a way to help your loved one.

  • First thing is first: if you suspect abuse or addiction, try to rule out other illnesses or causes related to aging. You can do your own research, but it’s best to talk with medical professionals and addiction experts.
  • If you’ve confirmed that there is an addiction or drug abuse problem or are uncomfortable talking to your loved one about your concerns, seek an addiction counselor or professional to discuss approaches for talking to or confronting your loved one about it. People respond very differently from each other (or even from their norm) in these types of situations and the way you approach it could make all the difference in how successful the treatment attempts are.
  • Talk to the person at the appropriate time. Be open about your concerns, but also show your love and try not to be accusatory.
  • Seek a treatment program specific to elderly/senior patients.
    • The program should be have ample experience in treating elderly addicted patients.
    • It should include individual case management resources (psychiatric, medical, and social) due to the fact that many elderly people don’t have access to as much support, once leaving the program. This is important because the key to recovery is being able to continue with the work after the treatment program ends.
    • Community building/social structure must be included. Isolation is a key risk factor and a key behavior in elderly addiction. Therefore, the program you choose must really focus on helping the person to build a reliable, responsible social network that will support them when they treatment program is over.
    • Appropriate style: it is important that the program take into account age-specific needs of its patients. Information and methods must be taught and delivered in a way that allows the participant to absorb and apply what they are learning to their own lives.
    • Staff must be trained not just in addiction treatment but also in elderly-specific challenges. They must understand the context of the elderly patient and be able to address concerns and issues that are specific to the senior population.
  • Stick with them. Of course, if you’ve succeeded in helping your loved one enter a treatment program, you need to follow the rules of the program in terms of how you interact with your person during that time—but that doesn’t mean you drop off the face of the planet. Be there, in whatever way you can be. Be especially prepared to help them when the program ends. They will need support to carry on their efforts and they will need someone to make sure they have the appropriate after-care. Addiction is not an isolated instance in someone’s life—even when they are no longer using. It is a constant battle and doing it alone is a recipe for relapse.

These steps are just a few to help you on your way to helping a loved one. Again, seek professional assistance so that you can get the support you need—not only for your loved one, but also for you!


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