There’s no denying that as we get older, our minds and bodies change. As well as maybe gaining weight and developing wrinkles, we also tend to lose muscle and our bodies break alcohol down much more slowly.
This means that as we get old, our bodies become more sensitive to the effects of alcohol – and alcohol may affect us more as we get older than it would a younger person.
Anybody can develop an addiction to alcohol, regardless of age. But is alcohol rehab different for seniors – and if so, how is it different?
If you’re an elderly person and you’re looking to seek treatment for your addiction, or you think that a parent or loved one may have a problem with alcohol, we can help.
Read on to learn more about the alcohol rehab process, and what to expect from addiction treatment as an elderly person. We’ll also explain how our dedicated team at Help4Addiction can help you.
Alcohol addiction can affect anybody, no matter how old you are. One of the reasons that there are more older adults with alcohol problems/ substance abuse issues could be because life expectancy has increased.
In 1991, roughly 10.6 million people were of pensionable age – a figure that rose 16% from 1971. In the year 2031, it’s expected that there will be 14.6 million people of pensionable age in the UK.
Roughly a third of elderly people that have problems with drinking will develop them later in their life for the first time, as opposed to having problems with alcohol earlier in life and them continuing into old age.
There are many social and medical complications that seniors may face as they get older – for example, poor physical health, loneliness and social isolation, boredom, and bereavement.
Older adults may also be more likely to experience depression – almost half of UK adults aged 55 and over have experienced common mental health problems.
Grief is something that pretty much all seniors will have experienced in their life – and something that becomes more prominent the older you get.
As you get older, you’re likely to witness friends, family members, and even life partners pass away, and be left to deal with the grief.
Part of getting old, unfortunately, means outliving others. Regardless of age, many people attempt to self-medicate the negative feelings associated with grief – and many turn to drugs or alcohol to numb the emotional pain.
Furthermore, many elderly people experience persistent pain – and may be prescribed painkillers to help deal with the pain. Some seniors may attempt to self-medicate by drinking alcohol – as a way to make these problems more bearable.
However, alcohol is an addictive substance – and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol on a regular basis can lead to you developing a dependence on the substance/ alcohol dependence.
It can be hard to recognise an alcohol problem, especially when it comes to elderly people – it can be easier for elderly people to hide their addiction. Seniors may not have a strict routine and may not have to work every day.
Likewise, they tend to have fewer family responsibilities – meaning that medical health professionals and loved ones may not notice changes in their lives due to alcohol abuse/ substance abuse or alcohol use disorder.
Older people may not be open to talking about their drinking – whether it be due to shame or embarrassment.
Addiction in the elderly may be considered a ‘taboo’ subject. Instead, they may keep their concerns about their drinking habits to themselves instead of reaching out to loved ones or seeking professional help.
Likewise, others may not notice the signs of alcohol use disorder/ AUD in an elderly person. Instead, they may think that the changes in behaviour are down to mental health problems/ a mental health disorder, or simply ‘getting old’.
As older adults may experience changes in personality regardless, loved ones may think that these changes are related to age as opposed to alcohol.
Many people tend to overlook alcohol problems in elderly people – which means they won’t look for problems. Loved ones may not think that alcoholism is an issue because the person is old, or won’t even comprehend the idea that alcoholism is a possibility.
Although it may be difficult to identify alcohol problems in older adults, that doesn’t mean the problems don’t exist. Data from the ONS/ Office for National Statistics in England showed that those aged 45 and over are drinking more and more and at hazardous levels.
Likewise, 60% of women between the ages of 45 and 64, and 69% of males in the same age range consumed alcohol in the last seven days – which is the highest of any age group.
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It’s important to remain mindful when drinking alcohol and to count how many units you’re drinking. According to the NHS guidelines, you should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, spread across the span of three or more days. This is the same as six medium glasses of wine or six pints of 4% beer or cider.
It’s also important to be careful when drinking if you take certain medications – whether it be prescription drugs, over-the-counter medication, or herbal remedies.
Older adults tend to be more likely to take medications on a regular basis, so this is something that seniors need to consider before drinking.
Some alcohol-medicine combinations can be deadly, and you should always check whether you can mix any medication you’re taking with alcohol before drinking alcohol.
In most cases, it’s best to consult your doctor or pharmacist. Certain medications can have different reactions to alcohol – for example, if you take aspirin with alcohol, the risk of developing intestinal or stomach bleeding rises.
If you take sleeping pills, antidepressants, painkillers/ pain medication, or anti-anxiety tablets, be sure to check with your doctor or medical professional whether you can drink alcohol – as some combinations can be fatal, and medical professionals are aware of the risks.
Some medicines have a high alcohol content – for example, cough syrups – so if you drink alcohol on top of this, you may feel stronger effects of alcohol.
Alcohol is a dangerous substance, especially when abused. Excessive alcohol consumption/ alcohol abuse and substance abuse can damage your physical health – for example, it can lower your immune system, cause liver damage and brain damage, and has been linked to different types of cancer.
As well as causing health problems, it can also worsen existing health conditions. For example, drinking alcohol can worsen diabetes and osteoporosis, as well as increase the risk of stroke, ulcers, and memory issues.
Alcohol can be used to relieve physical pain and can reduce the amount of pain you feel. However, as humans, we need pain – pain gives us a warning that something is wrong.
Excessive drinking, especially in older adults, can make it difficult to diagnose certain conditions. It can also be dangerous as alcohol can dull chronic pain that could be a warning sign for a serious issue – for example, a heart attack.
When older people drink alcohol or display signs of an alcohol use disorder or alcohol abuse disorder, they may become forgetful or confused. These symptoms are often comorbid with other diseases such as dementia, Alzheimer’s and alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD).
It’s important to have an understanding of the different treatment options available to you before committing yourself to a treatment plan.
For example, you may wish to attend rehab as an outpatient, or attend inpatient rehab in the form of residential treatment. But what exactly is the difference between outpatient treatment and inpatient addiction treatment?
If you opt for outpatient rehab, you’ll attend a rehab facility whilst living at home – whereas if you opt for inpatient rehab, you will attend your rehab sessions as an inpatient, temporarily residing in a rehab facility. At Help4Addiction, we can find you either a private rehab or NHS rehab that will meet your requirements.
If you have a severe addiction, it’s recommended that you receive inpatient rehab or at least detox in a facility in the form of a medically supervised detox.
Likewise, if you have other health conditions, you may benefit from inpatient rehab as opposed to outpatient rehab. Contact our addiction specialists at Help4Addiction to further discuss your addiction treatment options, or to gain an understanding of the treatment process.
Elderly alcohol dependence isn’t something that should be ignored – if you are an older adult or you’re seeking addiction treatment on behalf of a parent or a loved one, read on.
It can be daunting to take the first step toward treatment – which is why we’re going to explain the three key steps of addiction treatment. At Help4Addiciton, we can connect you with the right treatment provider for you and your situation.
We are connected with rehab treatment providers located all around England and Wales and will listen to your requirements, story, and preferences to find the right place for you to receive addiction treatment.
As well as alcohol addiction rehab, we can also source you the right drug addiction treatment for drug abuse problems.
Although we’re talking about alcohol on this page, this process also applies to substance abuse issues such as an addiction to prescription drugs or illicit drug addiction (e.g cocaine addiction or heroin addiction).
Read on to learn more about the three core stages of addiction treatment: detoxification, therapy, and secondary treatment/ aftercare.
Detoxification is the first stage of any addiction treatment. This stage can be particularly difficult as it aims at dealing with the physical aspects of addiction.
During alcohol detox, you’ll have no access to alcohol in order to free your body from physical addiction. You may experience unpleasant and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
Alcohol detox isn’t usually dangerous, but special care is usually required when it comes to rehab for seniors.
Treatment centres will sometimes offer detox medication which can ease the withdrawal process and soothe withdrawal symptoms. In some rare cases, withdrawal symptoms can be severe – and a person may experience delirium tremens. Click here to read more about delirium tremens.
The amount of time an alcohol detox can take can vary from person to person – however, it typically depends on factors such as your age, height, and weight – and of course, the severity of your addiction.
Therapy is an extremely important step in addiction rehab. As detoxification deals with the physical aspects of addiction and alcohol dependence, therapy aims at dealing with the social, psychological, and behavioural aspects of addiction.
Different treatment programs will offer different forms of therapy, but most centres will offer at least two of the following:
Therapy in rehab can give you a further understanding of yourself, your thinking patterns, and your addiction – for example, you may begin to understand your addiction triggers or any root causes of your addiction problems.
Once you have completed the course of rehab, you may struggle to ease yourself back into your everyday life. After all, that’s where the problems may have begun – and you may be tempted to return to alcohol and relapse.
This is why secondary treatment (aka aftercare) is so important. Some forms of aftercare include group therapy, counselling, and support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous.
Aftercare aims at easing the transition from rehab to your ‘normal’ life, providing you additional support, and ultimately preventing relapse.
It’s never too late to get help for your addiction – whether you’re 18 or 80, there is help and support out there for addiction in the elderly. If you’re a senior that has had problems with alcohol for a long time, it may be more difficult to break the addiction.
However, it is possible to do so with the right support. It’s important to reach out as soon as you recognise an issue – the longer you go without help, the more danger you’re putting yourself in.
Although people of any age can attend alcohol rehab, if you’re an older person, you may benefit more from choosing an age-specific rehabilitation centre – a facility that can meet any additional needs you may have.
For example, age-related health issues such as hearing loss, arthritis, osteoporosis – or anything other health issues you may experience.
Age-specific rehab centres are more likely to understand the struggles you face as an older adult – and ultimately provide you with the support you need.
When it comes to alcohol rehab for seniors, it’s important to maintain a steady structure, when it comes to detoxification and therapy. Detoxification can be challenging both physically and emotionally – so it’s important that any detox treatment program is well-structured.
During the detoxification process, it’s important that the elderly person is closely monitored – typically in the form of a medically supervised detox. Alcohol withdrawal can take its toll on anybody, but older adults might find it especially challenging and uncomfortable.
Both alcohol use disorder and addiction recovery can be lonely. Loneliness is a common problem amongst the elderly. Loneliness in elderly people is considered a major issue, with over 1.4 million older adults in the UK experiencing feelings of loneliness.
Inpatient rehab for elderly people can be especially helpful in combating loneliness, as opposed to self-treatment at home. This is because, during recovery at a rehab centre, people can socialise with others in a similar situation.
Spending time in a residential rehabilitation centre can benefit recovery for elderly people, allowing them to socialise, add routine, and enjoy getting to know other people.
It’s important that staff in residential rehab centres for elderly people have the correct training. One of the reasons for this is that many elderly people take prescribed medications to manage illnesses, and it’s important that these needs are met.
It can be difficult for anybody to leave rehab and return to their ‘normal’ lives. With the temptation of drinking alcohol often present in their previous environment, it is far too easy to relapse.
This is why secondary care is so important – to ease the transition from rehab to everyday life and to help prevent relapse.
Extra support is often given to seniors once they complete their course of rehab. This could include help getting set up in a senior living facility, or arranging for extra support at home (for example, a regular nurse).
Nicholas Conn is a leading industry addiction expert who runs the UK’s largest addiction advisory service and is regularly featured in the national press, radio and TV. He is the founder and CEO of a drug and alcohol rehab center called Help4addiction, which was founded in 2015. He has been clean himself since 2009 and has worked in the Addiction and Rehab Industry for over a decade. Nick is dedicated to helping others recover and get treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. In 2013, he released a book ‘The Thin White’ line that is available on Amazon.
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