Am I Too Old for Drug or Alcohol Rehab?

Am I Too Old for Drug or Alcohol Rehab?

 Why Seniors Should Consider Rehab an Option

Contrary to popular belief, addiction is not just an affliction of the young. More than 1 million adults ages 65 and older in this country have a substance use disorder, according to 2017 data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). This number is projected to rise, with a vast majority of affected seniors never seeking treatment in what has been aptly termed “a growing, but mostly silent, epidemic” in a 2016 study from BMC Health Services Research. Am I Too Old for Drug or Alcohol Rehab?
Sadly, what many older people with addiction don’t know is that rehab is both a viable and promising option for kicking a drug or alcohol problem. Seniority should never be an obstacle to getting effective treatment for an addiction.

Why Older Adults Should Go to Rehab

First, consider these three compelling reasons to go to rehab for a drug or alcohol problem.

  1. Older adults have better rates of recovery.

A 2013 Hazelden reportsheds light on why this is so. Recovery rates in seniors are higher than those in younger people because “older adults have more positive experiences to draw upon and tend to be more disciplined about recovery.”
Another key predictor of success in recovery is a client’s adherence to a plan of drug or alcohol treatment. When researchers in a 2002 studycompared older clients’ adherence to alcohol treatment with younger clients’ adherence to alcohol treatment, they found the older clients were more likely to comply with their plan of treatment. They were more faithful about attending therapy sessions and taking prescribed medications. As a result, the older adults’ rates of relapse were lower than those among younger adults.

  1. Drugs and alcohol are more physically harmful in older age.

There are a number of reasons that a drug or alcohol problem that you may have successfully managed earlier in life is increasingly more dangerous to your health as you age. These include:

  • A changing metabolism that raises your risks of a drug or alcohol-related fall or injury.
  • An age-associated decline in your immune system, cognition and other physical functions.
  • Your need for more over-the-counter medicines and doctor prescriptions as you age, accompanied by a greater likelihood of harmful interactions.
  • Decreased mobility and social interactions that can feed your sense of isolation and contribute to more severe substance abuse and addiction 
  1. There is no better time than now (the “Golden Years”) to improve your quality of life.

Contrary to the ageist mindset that says you’re too old to benefit from rehab, seniority is a persuasive reason to put quality-of-life concerns first. The golden years are an opportunity to make the most of the time you have left. Researchshows that people who attend inpatient rehab achieve a significant improvement in their quality of life.
For older people, moreover, positive and supportive relationships— not finances— are reportedly a more important quality-of-life measure. Strikingly, there is an even greater body of research that describes how treatment for addiction can improve close relationships with family and friends.

Tips for Finding the Right Rehab Program

Seniors who pursue treatment for an addiction have a number of rehab programs to choose from. Some cater exclusively to seniors, such as a nursing home that integrates addiction treatment into post-hospital rehab.
But don’t rule out a mixed-age rehab program either. Findings from the 2002 study cited above suggested that individualized, age-appropriate psychotherapies are more important to a successful recovery than a seniors-only treatment setting.
Here are some other things to keep in mind when you’re looking for a rehab program:

  • Detox time– Detox typically takes longer in older adults, so look for a program that will provide you with a medically supervised withdrawal that is safe and complete.
  • Dual diagnosis program– Substance abuse in older adults can often co-occur with symptoms of anxiety or depression related to grief, loss of mobility and/or other life transitions that come with age. Look for programs that are “dual diagnosis” (meaning they treat both substance use and co-occurring disorders).
  • Customized therapies for your psychosocial needs– Similarly, substance abuse typically has psychosocial and emotional roots that need to be addressed. Among older adults, these may relate to issues like depression or complicated or unresolved grief. Ask about what sorts of therapies will be offered to address these sorts of issues, and to what extent these therapies will be provided on an individual basis.
  • Location of program– If you have age-related health and mobility issues, you may wish to stay closer to home for rehab. Alternatively, if you’re able to travel, a program that is out of state may provide you with more of a retreat-like experience.
  • The tone of the staff towards older adults– Try to gauge whether there is a tone of positive support, respect and care for older adult clients. Pay attention to how the staff responds to your requests and inquiries when you call or tour the facility. If you pick up on any age-related condescension, that’s an immediate red flag.
  • Length of treatment– No matter your age group, you’ll experience better recovery outcomes the longer you stay in treatment, so ask about the length of the program.

No older adult should forego treatment because of concerns about their age. If you’re young enough to drink or use drugs, you’re young enough for rehab. Period.
By Anna Ciulla
Anna Ciulla is the Vice President of Clinical and Medical Services at Beach House Center for Recovery, where she oversees the supervision and delivery of client care. Anna has an extensive background in psychotherapy and clinical management and is often invited to speak and write for various audiences on issues related to addiction. She writes on a variety of addiction and recovery-related topics, including the benefits of seeking treatment no matter your age or place in life.
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About the Author

Kimberly Johnson

As Director of Sales and Marketing, Kimberly Johnson is passionate about providing Seniors with the resources and products to live well.  Kimberly is a seasoned caregiver to her family and breast cancer survivor.  Her father battled ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease and she was a primary caregiver.  Today Kimberly lives in Southern California near her 104-year-old grandmother, widowed mother, a mentally disabled sister and second sister who is also a breast cancer survivor.  She is happily married to her husband of 24 years and they have 3 children.

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