The Connection between the Stress of Aging and Addiction
Stress and aging are closely related, and one can lead to the other. According to an article in The Huffington Post entitled “Stress and Aging: 5 Ways Chronic Stress Can Affect the Aging Process,” work stress or even anticipating stress can accelerate cell aging. Aging can in turn contribute to stress, as concerns about health, finances and maintaining independence are common among the older population. Stress can lead to drug abuse, worsen existing substance use problems or lead to relapse.
Identifying Stress and Addiction in Older Individuals
According to The Mental Health and Substance Use Workforce for Older Adults (2012), older individuals often express mental health issues differently than the younger population. Signs of depression or anxiety, mental health concerns related to stress, may not be as obvious or well-known as those found in young or middle-aged adults. Addiction issues may also be overlooked if the patient is not consuming what would be considered an excessive amount of drugs or alcohol. However, even small amounts of substances can be problematic in older individuals with slowed metabolic systems.
The challenges of identifying mental health and addiction issues do not mean that the elderly population does not deal with these concerns. According to the New York Times article, “A Rising Tide of Substance Abuse” (2013), up to 20 percent of America’s senior population struggles with substance abuse or mental health issues. If senior citizens are not being treated for addiction or mental health concerns, it is not because they are not dealing with these issues.
Over-Medication Leading to Addiction
A lack of a proper mental health diagnosis may lead to stress-related issues being ignored, undiagnosed or self-medicated. Seniors are prescribed a large number of medications, as The New York Times reports that 40 percent of all individuals aged 65 or over are taking at least five medications. Seniors are used to turning to drugs or being handed drugs as the solution to health ills. They may already be prescribed anti-anxiety medications such as Klonopin or Ativan, and they may not hesitate to turn to these pills when they experience stress, depression or anxiety. They may also have prescription painkillers in their medicine cabinets, and these may seem to provide temporary relief from negative emotions.
Taking a pill once or twice to cope with stress can turn into regularly relying on these drugs. Misuse quickly becomes abuse and addiction, and these issues can accelerate quickly in aging individuals. Lack of awareness of addiction rates in the senior population may allow addiction problems to grow dramatically before they are recognized and addressed. This does not mean addiction and stress cannot be addressed and treated, as addiction and mental health treatment is available and effective for anyone at any age.
It Is Never Too Late for Addiction Recovery
If you, a parent, grandparent or other loved one is struggling with addiction and mental health concerns, call our toll-free helpline. It is never too late to find a drug-free life. Our admissions coordinators will connect you with the treatment resources that match your age, situation and recovery needs. We are here 24 hours a day, so please don’t hesitate to call now and get the help you need.