Seniors, those who love them, and substance abuse

Across the United States and Canada, nearly 10 per cent of the population are considered to be abusers of alcohol or drugs. And while drug and alcohol abuse is a large concern for teenagers and other adolescents, evidence suggests that a growing number of Baby Boomers and other seniors are also becoming addicted to alcohol, illicit drugs, and other illegal and harmful substances.

But it’s not just the addicts themselves who are suffering at the hands of these substances; it’s also those closest to these addicts, including their friends, family members, and spouses and partners.

Alcohol abuse

Denise Krochta, a radio host and author based in Carlsbad, California, spoke to about older people and addiction, and said that while Baby Boomers and older seniors both have widespread usage of illegal drugs – as well as overuse of alcohol – the mindset is very different between the two groups.

“Baby Boomers...are a unique population in itself. Almost all of them either experimented with or regularly used pot or alcohol and other illicit drugs of the times back and many still don't consider misuse or abuse as serious,” Krochta said.

“The older seniors are more likely to just get caught up in addiction. Alcohol, because it has been legal for so long, is commonly abused among the elderly, and to add to that, almost all seniors are using legally proscribed prescription drugs for all kinds of ailments, which have potential to be addictive,” she added.

Krochta, author of “Sweat: A Practical Plan For Keeping Your Heart Intact While Loving An Addict,” entered the world of substance abuse about 10 years ago when she discovered that her then teenage son was addicted to prescription drugs, has since branched out and now coaches family members on how to maintain good relationships with their loved ones who are addicted to drugs and alcohol.

With older people, Krochta told that one of the biggest challenges is the societal stigma that exists about substance abuse, mental illness, and other related topics, which can make it very difficult for people who need help leaving drug and alcohol addiction to receive the important help that they need.

“As long as addicts are considered criminals I don’t think there will be change in the stigma. Also, like mental illness, it seems to make people embarrassed and ashamed to acknowledge this is a fact of life in their world, so they hide it,” Krochta said.

So what can the friends, family members and partners of Baby Boomers and seniors who are suffering from substance abuse do with their loved ones, and how can they help? Some starting points can be finding a support group or other means of assistance, both professional (such as addictions counselors) or supportive friends and family.