12 Ways Opioid Addiction and Treatment Differ in Older Adults

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Other substances, such as anxiety and sleeping drugs, can complicate opioid addiction in older adults. (Getty Images)

Other substances, such as anxiety and sleeping drugs, can complicate opioid addiction in older adults.(Getty Images)

Older adults aren’t immune from the opioid epidemic sweeping the U.S. However, seniors have unique backgrounds, vulnerabilities and needs for addiction treatment. Many feel ashamed to seek help for problems with prescription painkillers like OxyContin or street drugs like heroin. But age-tailored treatment can save lives, salvage family relationships and restore meaning and purpose to existence. Below, experts lay out generational issues in opioid addiction.

 

Addiction rises as the senior population grows.

Across the board, the proportional risk of addiction is constant for adults, says Dr. Stuart Gitlow, former president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine. The difference lies in individual response, he says. When given an opiate drug, most people will feel some nausea and physical discomfort, and wake with an unpleasant sensation. “But about 20 percent of the population will say, ‘Oh, that feels amazing,'” he continues. “Those are the people we worry about. And you’re just as likely to run across those 20 percent in older age as you are in younger age.” With 65 million Americans now 60 or older, that adds up to a significant number at risk.

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