Late onset alcoholism is a silent epidemic that is mostly undiagnosed. It is defined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as a drinking problem that begins after 60 years of age. This growing trend can be linked directly to the baby boomer demographic who make up 40% of the nation’s population. The “baby boom” era began in 1946 when 3.4 million babies were born. The number increased to 3.8 million in 1947, 3.9 in 1948 and 4 million in 1952. By the time this birthing boom began to taper off in the 1960’s over 76 million babies were born. Today, a large percentage of these individuals who are now grandparents and retirees are also struggling with alcoholism.
Current National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, show individuals 65 years and older met the criteria for alcohol abuse. Detecting alcoholism in the older adult is difficult because traditional identifiers such as time lost from work, social interactions and risky behavior like driving drunk are no longer applicable. Most no longer work or drive and social interactions usually diminish as one age.
• Frequent unexplained fluctuations in blood pressure,
• Complaints of insomnia and repeated requests for tranquilizer medication.
• Injuries caused by frequent falls
• Poor hygiene and lack of interest in grooming
• Worsening of medically diagnosed conditions such as diabetes
• Alcohol reactions with prescribed medications
• Increased desire to be alone.
• Defensive behavior
Signs and symptoms of abuse can vary based on gender and personality. Changes in behavior should always be taken into consideration primarily when major life changing events have occurred for the elderly. More than any other trigger, isolation is a key component in undiagnosed alcoholism for the elderly.
Apart from the fact that the over 60 population is larger, there are various other triggers for late on-set alcoholism such as:
• Chronic pain and fears about dying
• Worry and anxiety about money
• Grief due to the loss of a spouse or friends
• Loneliness caused by living alone and diminishing social and recreational interests.
• Loss of a daily purpose once provided by a job or a career.
A smaller amount of alcohol can have a greater impact on an older adult. As metabolism slows down and sensitivity increase it may not take much for tolerance levels to build up quickly. Aging issues may also interfere with the ability to monitor intake. Late onset diabetes is also an area that is being heavily researched because of the pace at which substance abuse epidemic among older adults is moving. These studies also help loved ones to understand the psychological issues that the elderly face as they enter this stage of their lives.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) treatment specifications for late onset alcoholism suggest age-appropriate group therapy that address loss early in treatment. SAMHSA also recommend that patients receive assistance and training to rebuild or reconnect with support networks. At Fairfield Drug Treatment Centers our treatment programs are customized based on the individual’ needs. We facilitate age appropriate treatment protocols at pace that is right for each patient. We also seek to foster a culture of respect and understanding so that the patient’s dignity is maintained throughout the entire recovery process.
If you or a loved one is dealing with late onset alcoholism or other substance abuse call Fairfield Drug Treatment Centers today at (203)242-8257. We can help.