September marks the start of the Philadelphia Eagles’ season yet this month is also quite important for those struggling with substance abuse and those who have recovered from addiction. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA for short, has designated September as National Recovery Month. This is the time of year when we raise awareness about substance abuse in seniors.
Risk Factors of Substance Abuse in Seniors for their Caregivers
Most people living in the greater Philadelphia area and beyond assume substance abuse is primarily a problem amongst teens, twenty-somethings, and other young adults. The truth is senior citizens are just as vulnerable to developing an addiction to drugs or alcohol as others. In particular, senior citizens dealing with chronic pain have a tendency to abuse pain relief medication, alcohol, and additional substances.
Risk factors include:
- Being white
- Having higher income
- Living alone
- Losing a spouse
- Retiring unexpectedly/being laid off
- Having chronic pains
- Being disabled
- Having a history of mental illness or substance abuse
If you notice the senior in your life requires more medication than they used to, drinks alone, or is secretive about drinking, it is a sign that he or she needs professional substance abuse counseling.
How To Support Someone in Their Recovery Effort
An elderly individual or any other person struggling to stay sober is in need of help yet unwilling or unsure of how to ask for it. You can help in subtle ways. Do not immediately resort to an intervention with a substance abuse counselor. A forced intervention is a last resort.
Instead of performing a forced intervention, start by educating yourself about the problem. Get a sense of whether the individual’s use of a particular substance is harmful to him/herself or others. If you don’t know much about substance abuse, read up on the subject on the web or at your local library. Do not persuade your loved one to completely abstain from the substance in question right away. Encourage gradual weaning off of the substance for incremental progress that eventually leads to sobriety.
Ask for Professional Assistance
Most attempts at “do it yourself” (DIY) sobriety do not work. Even if a family member or friend provides support, the person with drug dependence will likely need professional substance abuse counseling. All sorts of groups from Alcoholics Anonymous to Nar-Anon for those addicted to illegal and prescription drugs are ready and willing to help. Nudge your loved one in the direction of such a counselor.
Consider attending counseling sessions with the senior, caregiver, or other friends/family member if he or she needs additional support in the quest for sobriety. In some cases, simply discussing the addiction with a professional counselor builds momentum to the point that the person with drug dependence is willing to take the next step toward returning his/her life to normal.
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