Assisted Living and Substance Abuse

Assisted Living and Substance Abuse
As people get older, they can require assistance with daily activities. When this happens, assisted living homes can provide the care they need while allowing them to still maintain some independence. However, for those with substance use disorders, there are unique challenges that come with living in an assisted living home. Not only is assisted living a favored option for older adults in general, but it can also be beneficial for those with a substance use disorder. In this blog, we discuss assisted living for those with substance use disorders, the challenges involved, and some of the options available.

What is Assisted Living?

Assisted living is a type of housing that helps people with daily activities. This can include things like bathing, dressing, eating, and using the restroom. Assisted living homes typically provide care 24 hours a day, and provide many services and amenities to make life easier for residents. They are also a good option for people who can no longer live alone but do not need the level of care that is provided in a nursing home. These long-term residential care communities also provide personal care and health services to people with chronic illnesses or disabilities. This can include elders with substance use disorders. For people with substance use disorders, assisted living can provide a safe and stable environment in which to recover. These homes typically have staff members who are trained in how to deal with addiction and mental health issues. They can provide support and guidance to residents as they work towards recovery.

What Services are Included in an Assisted Living Facility?

In order to provide the best care possible, assisted living facilities offer a variety of services. These can include:
  • 24-hour supervision and security
  • Meals and nutrition services
  • Housekeeping and laundry services
  • Transportation
  • Exercise and recreational activities
  • Social and emotional support
In addition to the aforementioned services, assisted living facilities also offer residents the opportunity to connect with other residents. Within the assisted living community, residents can find social activities, clubs, and groups that fit their interests. This is important as many elderly Americans struggle with loneliness. According to a study done by the National Institute on Aging, 1 in 3 seniors experiences loneliness. Concerningly, loneliness can have a significant impact on one’s health and can cause or contribute to high blood pressure, a weak immune system, and cognitive decline.

Is Assisted Living a Replacement for Addiction Treatment?

While an assisted living facility can provide many services that revolve around the well-being of its residents, they do not provide addiction treatment. It is important to understand that assisted living will not replace comprehensive substance abuse care. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, it is important to seek out professional help. This usually will be in the form of drug detox and an addiction treatment program. Further, before entering an assisted living home, treatment should be concluded.

Assisted Living and On-Going Addiction Support

Though an assisted living home may not provide addiction treatment, it can provide ongoing support. This is a key component in recovery. Many people who have completed an addiction treatment program find that they need ongoing support to maintain their sobriety. Assisted living homes can provide this support through various means. First, they can provide a sober living environment. This can be vital for those in early recovery, as it removes triggers and temptation. Additionally, assisted living homes can provide support groups and other resources. This can help residents stay connected to the recovery community and find support when needed.

How Substance Abuse Affects Older Adults

assisted living and substance abuse While people of all ages develop substance use disorders, the elderly population experiences addiction in a unique way. For example, while illicit drug use is lowest in elderly adults, it has steadily increased over time. Additionally, older adults may misuse medications entirely by accident compared to younger adults. It is common for elders to forget to take their medication, take it too often, or take the wrong amount. Unfortunately, this can lead to a substance abuse disorder, especially when too much medication is taken for a prolonged period of time. Different factors such as the death of a spouse, declining health, and boredom due to retirement can lead to increased substance use. Additionally, many elderly people are taking multiple medications, which can interact with each other and lead to addiction. In fact, up to 50% of elderly Americans have admitted to misusing prescription substances. This is especially common with prescription opioids and benzodiazepines.

Substance Abuse Among the Elderly and Aging Statistics

Statistics regarding aging Americans and substance abuse include the following:
  • 1 in 10 Americans over the age of 60 are addicted to drugs or alcohol.
  • The number of Americans over the age of 65 who abuse drugs has quadrupled since 1992.
  • Between 2001 and 2011, the number of emergency room visits by people over the age of 50 due to adverse reactions to prescription drugs increased by 165%.
  • The drug-related death rate for users over 50 increases 3% annually.
  • 6% of drug deaths among 50-plus users are from cocaine and amphetamines, and 13% are from other drugs.
  • Alcohol is the most abused drug among older adults.
  • Depression and alcohol use are the most commonly cited co-occurring disorders in older adults.

Aging Populations and Co-Occurring Disorders

Many seniors with substance abuse disorders also have co-occurring mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. This can make recovery more difficult, as both disorders must be treated simultaneously. However, substance abuse among the elderly is often undiagnosed and untreated because symptoms may be mistaken for other age-related conditions. As a result, many seniors do not get the help they need. When an older adult is suffering from a substance use disorder, their symptoms may not align with the symptoms that younger people exhibit. For example, an elderly person with an alcohol use disorder may not become rowdy or violent when drinking. Instead, they may become more withdrawn and withdraw from social activities. Additionally, because of the age-related changes that happen in the brain, seniors may be more susceptible to developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease if they abuse substances. Alcohol in particular is linked to the development of dementia.

Treatment Options for Elderly and Aging People with a SUD

Treatment for elderly and aging people with a substance use disorder is largely based on the treatment options that work for younger populations. However, there are some considerations that must be taken into account when treating this population. For example, many elderly and aging people with a SUD live in assisted living facilities or nursing homes. This can present a challenge when it comes to treatment, as these individuals may not have the same level of access to care as those who live on their own. Overall, treatment will depend on the severity of the disorder and the level of functional impairment that the individual experiences. Regardless of the treatment provided, it must be conducted by professionals who know how to work with older populations. This is because the elderly often have different needs than younger people with a SUD. For instance, the elderly are more likely to experience social isolation and loneliness, which can impact their recovery. Treatment can vary from inpatient care to outpatient care, and can include the following:

Inpatient addiction treatment requires an individual to live at the treatment facility for the duration of their treatment program. This can last anywhere from 30 days to 90 days, or even longer in some cases. During this time, individuals will receive around-the-clock care and supervision as they detox from drugs and alcohol and begin to participate in therapy.

Outpatient addiction treatment for elderly individuals typically requires them to visit a treatment facility for several hours each week. During this time, they will participate in therapy and other addiction treatment interventions. They will also be able to return home each day, which can be beneficial for those who have responsibilities such as work or caregiving.

During a treatment program, individuals receive therapy which is designed to help them understand the root causes of their addiction and how to cope with triggers and cravings. Family therapy may also be included in order to help loved ones understand the addiction and how they can best support their elder’s recovery.

Assisted Living and Managing Substance Abuse

Substance abuse among seniors is a growing problem that needs to be addressed. If you have an elderly loved one who is struggling with addiction, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. There are treatment options available that can make a difference.

After treatment, assisted living can provide a supportive environment for seniors in recovery. Regardless of age, addiction is treatable. With the wide availability of treatment options available, recovery for elders is possible.

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