Complications When Seniors Use Drugs

As baby boomers increasingly encounter health challenges associated with aging, some of them are also faced with the complication of drug addiction. The combination of natural health problems alongside addiction makes treating both difficult.

This segment of seniors seeking treatment for drug addiction along with additional health problems poses a challenge for health and social services. A reduced quality of life along with drug problems and health concerns can require a complicated treatment program.

A study, published in the September issue of the Journal of Advanced Nursing highlights the concerns connected with seniors abusing drugs. Researchers from the U.K. interviewed 11 people, all aged 49-61, who were in contact with voluntary sector drug treatment services.

Addicted seniors – more vulnerable

Brenda Roe, lead author of the study and Professor of Health Research at Edge Hill University, says that the group of seniors who use illegal drugs are emerging as an important sector of the population. Roe explains that the group is vulnerable, because their treatment needs are specific and failure to treat can result in impaired health and poorer quality of life. However, treatment options for older adult drug addicts are not widely available or accessible in the UK.

The average age of the nine men and two women participating in the study was 57. They were all single and many were living in unstable housing, such as a caravan or hostel.

The findings, which were examined by the Evidence-Based Practice Research Centre at Edge Hill University and the Centre for Public Health at Liverpool John Moores University, showed that most of the participants had begun using drugs as adolescents or young adults. A few had started later in life, due to a difficult circumstance such as divorce or death of a loved one.

Types of drugs and consequences

The older adults enrolled in the study began using drugs via a variety of introductory substances, such as “magic” mushrooms, LSD, amphetamines or methadone. All but two of the patients were taking methadone during the study as part of a maintenance or reduction strategy in order to eliminate drug use.

Several of the participants recognized the role of drugs in creating negative consequences in their personal lives, including their health. Several had developed a range of chronic or life-threatening conditions as a result of using drugs.

Further research is needed to determine the factors involved when older adults use drugs. While many in this population began using drugs during their popularization in the 1960s and 1970s, the reasons for beginning drug use may be varied and need to be explored more fully across a larger sample size.

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