Drug And Alcohol Rehab Programs For Senior Citizens

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Senior citizens have unique needs when it comes to addiction treatment. Having grown up in a different generation from many others struggling with substance abuse, the elderly may view addiction differently. It is important that a drug rehab program covers issues that are relevant to the older generation, and this may be done most effectively through age-specific treatment.

Addiction And Mental Health Concerns For Senior Citizens

The field of mental health has become more respected over the years, but mental health issues used to be highly stigmatized. Many older adults may feel ashamed that they have a substance use disorder since they grew up in a time when people did not discuss these sorts of problems.

DrugRehab.org Drug And Alcohol Rehab Programs For Senior Citizens Increasing Emergence of Non-12-Step

In the past, addiction was viewed as a failure. With the increasing emergence of non-12-step programs based on empowering the individual and using scientific treatment methods to heal the disease of addiction, this stigma is quickly fading away. Even traditional 12-step programs generally focus more on healing the individual with an addiction rather than blaming them for it.

When someone has lived their whole life believing a certain way, it can be hard to shake the mentality that addiction is a shortcoming. Elderly people may hesitate to seek addiction treatment due to social expectations. Age-specific drug and alcohol rehab programs are designed to help older people feel comfortable and deal with these issues in a healthy way.

Treating Addiction In Senior Citizens

Drug and alcohol rehab programs for senior citizens are geared toward providing the most comprehensive care for elderly people suffering from addiction.

These programs may include:

  • coping strategies
  • counseling
  • support groups
  • education
  • dual diagnosis treatment

Coping Strategies

Older adults suffering from addiction may also suffer from loneliness or emptiness, and they may benefit from learning ways to cope with the particular stresses of later life. These may include relaxation techniques such as yoga and meditation. Therapies used to teach these strategies may also help the person discover new interests and reframe life events in a more positive light. This may be done through art therapy, holistic treatment, or behavioral therapy.


Individual or group counseling may be effective for an elderly person who is addicted to drugs or alcohol. This gives them a chance to talk through their age-specific issues with a therapist who has experience working with older adults. Counseling that is designed for senior citizens can be more relevant to them, sensitive to their needs, and allow them to move at their own pace.

Support Groups

Community support groups allow senior citizens to share their experiences with others in the same age group. For many elderly people, being part of a group of younger people puts them in a parenting role, rather than that of a peer. Age-specific groups help people to bond with others who understand their situation and who may be going through the same hardships.


Many senior citizens do not realize all the ways that their bodies have changed. They may not know the harm that they are doing by abusing drugs and alcohol separately or together. Educating them on the dangers of substance abuse in their aging bodies can help enlighten them to risks of which they may be unaware.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

It may be hard to detect substance abuse in senior citizens because they often struggle with other physical and mental health issues that may have similar effects to substance use disorders. Dementia, diabetes, and depression may be issues that plague older adults and may show symptoms that can also be indicative of substance abuse, such as:

  • memory loss
  • difficulty concentrating
  • irritability
  • sadness
  • changes in diet
  • difficulty sleeping
  • lack of interest
  • lower self-confidence

In some cases, senior citizens struggle with other mental health issues along with addiction. Co-occurring disorders can be addressed with dual diagnosis treatment. Dealing with both disorders can help an elderly person move toward a complete recovery.

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Causes Of Substance Abuse In Senior Citizens

People are often considered to be senior citizens when they reach retirement. In the United States, this generally happens at age 65 and older. Being labeled as a “senior” can negatively affect a person’s view of themselves, and retirement can come with its own challenges.

Some older people have to adjust to a lower income after retirement. This can be a difficult change that could lead to a sense of frustration or failure. Others may struggle with a feeling of meaninglessness and loss of direction, as employment can give purpose to life. In general, elderly people have fewer years ahead of them, which gives them a very different perspective on how to spend their time.

Another difficulty that senior citizens may face is loneliness. This is often the result of living alone, possibly because of divorce or death of a spouse. Grief may come hand-in-hand with loneliness. The older a person is, the more likely it is that they will experience the death of a friend or loved one, which can leave a void in a person’s life.

These emotional issues, as well as health problems that often come with age, may cause someone to turn to substance use.

Dangers Of Substance Abuse In Senior Citizens

A big problem with substance abuse in senior citizens is the way it affects their bodies. Someone over 65 years old cannot metabolize drugs and alcohol like someone who is much younger. This is especially true for people whose bodies have been weakened by abusing substances for many years.

Alcohol, for example, is absorbed more quickly in an older person’s body. They may not realize this and may continue to drink at rates that were tolerable in their younger years. This habit may produce health issues as they age.

Older people likely have decreased blood flow to the liver and kidneys, which causes substances to be broken down more slowly. This means that substances may build up in someone’s system, possibly leading to tolerance and posing a higher risk for overdose.

DrugRehab.org Drug And Alcohol Rehab Programs For Senior Citizens High Rate Of Abuse

While alcohol is the most reported abused substance among the elderly, prescription drugs also have a high rate of abuse in this group. Many of the prescriptions in the U.S. are written for senior citizens, often for opioid pain relievers and benzodiazepines. These substances are dangerous when used in excess of doctor recommendations.

Besides prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications are frequently used by senior citizens and can also be abused. According to the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, over-the-counter drugs come with risky side effects even with normal use. “Laxatives, for example, can cause chronic diarrhea, which can lead to sodium and potassium imbalance and cause heart rhythm irregularities… cold medications can elevate the blood pressure and lead to strokes.”

Many elderly people develop a dependence on over-the-counter or prescription medications and pair them with alcohol, causing a host of additional risks. They may not be aware of how these substances work together and the specific dangers that polysubstance abuse can cause.

Whether used for pain relief, to lessen anxiety, or for a feeling of pleasure, drugs, and alcohol can have a profoundly negative impact on the health and well-being of an elderly person.

Finding A Drug And Alcohol Rehab Program For Senior Citizens

Sadly, friends and family members may recognize signs of substance abuse in a senior citizen, but the issue may not seem as urgent as it would with a younger person. Substance abuse can cut someone’s time short. Seeking treatment before it is too late may give a loved one the chance to live a more full and meaningful life.

Addiction treatment programs for senior citizens examine particular issues that trouble elderly people. In addition to age, inpatient drug and alcohol rehab programs can be customized to include unique personal concerns. An age-specific, individualized treatment program gives older adults the opportunity to recover in a safe and supportive environment that encourages healing from addiction.

For more information about drug and alcohol rehab programs for senior citizens, contact us today.

For more information be sure to check out these additional resources from DrugRehab.org:


National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. — Alcohol, Drug Dependence and Seniors
Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services — Elderly Alcohol and Substance Abuse
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration — Substance Use Treatment for Older Adults