Alcohol abuse, especially among the over-60s, is one of the fastest growing health concerns globally. Due to alcohol and over-the-counter or prescription drug misuse, a large number of older people are increasingly landing in hospital beds.
The abuse of alcohol in over-60s is associated with unique challenges in terms of recognising the problem and determining the most important treatment interventions. That is, the main issue in this age group is the alcohol abuse often goes unrecognised, and hence is generally under-treated. The sad tragedy is that younger adults unconsciously assign different quality-of-life standards to older adults. For example, they are often tempted to believe that older people won’t be around much longer — so what difference does it make anyway. In view of this, there is a pertinent need to relinquish such callous attitude towards over-60s.
According to a recent brief by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), alcohol and drug abuse affects as many as 17 per cent of older adults. At this age, the metabolism of alcohol is much slower in their bodies; as a result, they have increased sensitivity to and decreased tolerance for alcohol. The common factors that contribute to alcohol abuse among elderly are: changing life roles such as retirement, loss of family and friends, mild or severe insomnia, and mental and physical slow-down. If this habit of abuse is left unchecked, many physical and emotional effects of alcoholism will appear. For example, it can cause complicated medical conditions, producing unsafe medication interactions, and increasing falls, confusion, depression, dementia, and premature mortality.
One important aspect of alcohol abuse in older adults is alcohol withdrawal syndrome. It arises when heavy drinkers suddenly stop their alcohol intake. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are common in older individuals, which can result in potentially life threatening conditions and requires prompt recognition and management. People who are heavily dependent upon alcohol should be kept under close medical supervision before they start showing worst alcohol withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms are all indicators of a brain suffering from overstimulation and typically appear between six and 12 hours after a rapid decrease in blood alcohol level and a sudden increment of anxiety.
When it comes to over-60s, an intervention is necessary in alcohol-related problems because it is imperative to take preventive measures against the development of other health-related problems. Before starting the treatment of alcohol addiction, professionals recommend that no more than one or two family members or friends take part in this process. That is because the involvement of too many people may overwhelm or confuse an older person. Another important thing to remember is providing the elderly a complete privacy, as they feel more shame or stigma than younger individuals for losing control at their age. Nevertheless, a professionally staged intervention can prove extremely successful for elderly people who are immersed in alcohol abuse.
As the need for the elderly addiction increases, more and more relevant and sophisticated methods are being developed. For example, there is the availability of various comprehensive programs that focus on addicts as a whole, rather than just their alcohol abuse. They include:
Alcohol detox: Detoxification is the very first step in the treatment of alcohol addiction, which can be most difficult as well. This is the time when the person has to fight extremely uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Keeping it in mind, the alcohol detox stage therefore should only be carried out under professional medical care. This stage may also include the administration of medication in order to help ease the discomfort. This allows the elderly individuals to focus on getting better.
Inpatient rehab: An inpatient rehabilitation facility is highly structured and customised treatment environment for the people who are fighting to overcome alcoholism. These rehabs are generally recommended to those who suffer from most severe forms of alcoholism. The rehabilitation program requires them to stay for a few weeks and up to three months inside the rehab premises. Treatment specialists provide round-the-clock care along with preparing their life after rehab.
Alcohol counselling: Counselling is important during the process of giving up alcohol. Regular visits to a counsellor go a long way in receiving guidance during the recovery from alcohol addiction among older adults. It opens a healthy communication during good times as well as difficult times. In this stage, the therapist works with addicts pertaining to any underlying issues that may be triggering them towards drinking. This stage gives more opportunity to them in terms of learning more about themselves.
Substance abuse has terrible impacts on social relationships, health, and emotional wellbeing. It can lead to other serious illnesses, worsen medical conditions, and increase healthcare costs.