Baby Boomers and Older Adults

Different generations have different world views

Family and friends must recognize that the consequences of an alcohol or other drug problem are different for the older adult. Since many older adults are retired, drive less, live away from family and friends, are financially independent, and drink alone at home, they don’t experience the same kinds of consequences as a younger person. When you write your letter to the older adult, you must shift your thinking when you are looking for examples of negative consequences. A younger person may have a drunk driving arrest, threat of job loss, financial problems, or divorce. These consequences are less likely to occur in the older adult’s life.

An excerpt from the book, Love First:

“If the person you are intervening on is an older adult, age fifty-five or older, you need additional information before proceeding with an intervention. Symptoms of alcohol dependence can mirror symptoms of diseases and conditions that may occur as we grow older. These symptoms include shakiness, frequent falls, excessive napping, depression, reduced interest in food, isolation, dizziness, confusion, memory loss, bruising, incontinence, and poor hygiene. Alcohol dependence is sometimes misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s, stroke or Parkinson’s Disease.”

Intervening on an older adult requires special understanding of the thinking and the needs of this age group, and a specific language, as described in the book Aging and Addiction. A love first approach is especially important when intervening on an elder person. Confrontation only increases a sense of shame which can lead to defensiveness and resistance. Love and understanding are more effective at opening the door between you and your older loved one.

“An important new book. A godsend for older adults and those who care for them. Here readers will find easy-to-understand explanations for the specific problems of addiction and clear paths to lifelong recovery.”

Robert L. DuPont, M.D.
Former director, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Former Director, Office of National Drug Control Policy

Older adults often need greater support in treatment due to a more complex detoxification from alcohol or prescription drugs, multiple medical problems that can block treatment, memory loss, reduced mobility including difficulty driving, and slower overall progress in recovery For this reason, inpatient treatment in a center specializing in older alcoholics is often best.

Alcoholics over 55 years old often take longer to recover, but their success in long term recovery is higher than any other age group. If you are not sure if your older parent or grandparent is suffering from an addiction to alcohol or mood-altering prescription drugs, answer the questions on the quiz: Signs of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse in Older Adults.

“This book will help save lives. It’s that simple. Aging and Addiction – intelligent, readable, and well-research – is above all an immensely compassionate book offering hope and direction to families and readers with concerns for an older adult who may be abusing alcohol or medications.”

-Barry McCaffrey

former White House Drug Czar

Older Adult Addiction Quiz

The signs of alcohol abuse and medication dependence can be different in adults over fifty  than in younger adults. They often drink at home alone, so no one notices the severity of the problem. Many older adults or seniors are retired, so they don’t have work-related problems due to their chemical dependency. They drive less, so there’s less opportunity for them to get arrested for driving under the influence. They may also develop problems with prescription medication, with or without the use of alcohol. Often these problems are hidden. They may also be rationalized by the family.

The following signs and symptoms are typical of baby boomers, older adults or seniors with an alcohol or other drug problem:

  • Prefers attending events where drinking is accepted, such as luncheons, happy hours, and parties
  • Drinks in solitary, hidden from others
  • Is drinking more than before
  • Is drinking the same or less yet still experiencing problems
  • Makes a ritual of having drinks before, with, or after dinner. Becomes annoyed when this ritual is disturbed
  • Has lost interest in activities and hobbies that used to bring pleasure
  • Drinks in spite of warning labels on prescription drugs
  • Suffers from alcohol-related health problems
  • Has bottles of tranquilizers on hand and takes them at the slightest sign of disturbance
  • Is often intoxicated or slightly tipsy, and sometimes has slurred speech
  • Secretly disposes of large volumes of empty beer and liquor bottles
  • Suffers from tremors and shakes
  • Makes excuses to keep liquor in the house (guests, special occasions, etc.)
  • Drinks despite health problems
  • Frequently expresses a wish to die
  • Often has the smell of liquor on his or her breath or uses mouthwash to disguise it
  • Is neglecting personal appearance and gaining or losing weight
  • Complains of constant sleeplessness, loss of appetite, or chronic health problems that seem to have no physical cause
  • Has unexplained burns or bruises and tries to hide them
  • Seems more hostile or resentful than usual
  • Neglects home, bills, pets
  • Can’t handle routine chores and paperwork without making mistakes
  • Has irrational or undefined fears and delusions, or seems under unusual stress
  • Seems to be losing his or her memory
  • Falls asleep during conversations
  • Appears to be depressed
  • Calls at odd hours
  • Has problems with urinary incontinence
  • Suffers from heart arrhythmia
  • Is less involved in activities during evening hours.

If you can answer yes to two or more questions, the person you are concerned about should get a professional assessment by a certified addiction specialist. Or contact our office.

Many of the symptoms listed above are attributed to other diseases or are considered part of the aging process. However, many older people find that once they achieve sobriety, these symptoms disappear.

AGING AND ADDICTION: Helping older adults overcome alcohol or medicaiton dependence The Hazelden Guidebook, by Debra Jay and Carol Colleran.

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