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Elderly Addicts Face Unique Challenges

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Older addicts have many of the same problems as young people with alcohol and other drug addictions, plus other issues unique to their age group, the Washington Post reported Jan. 18.

Estrangement from family, financial problems, and a host of regrets are nearly universal to people of all ages in recovery. But elderly addicts also have to deal with greater isolation and changing body chemistry, and even less accountability and more free time can become negatives.

Treatment programs are seeing more older addicts as Baby Boomers — the first generation to experience widespread recreational use of drugs but also born before admitting addiction and seeking help became fashionable — reach their 50s and 60s. The National Institute on Drug Abuse recently held the first national forum on drug addiction among the elderly, and federal officials expect the number of seniors with alcohol and other drug problems to leap 150 percent by 2020.

On the positive side, older addicts who are ready to quit drinking or taking drugs are often more successful in doing so. Older treatment clients may be suspicious of therapy, but they tend to keep their appointments.

Still, therapy needs to be tailored to their needs: counselors must be respectful of their privacy and have good manners, and sessions should be shorter and held during the day so seniors don't have to drive at night.

About three percent of Americans seeking treatment for addiction are over age 60, but the percentage who have addiction problems is suspected of being higher. A decade ago, three of four older addicts were battling alcohol abuse, but today about half have problems with drugs other than alcohol.

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