Positive Aging: Addiction Among Older Americans

Marilyn Murray Willison on

Most Americans over the age of 50 are not strangers to the following names: Ambien, Ativan, Klonopin, Lunesta, OxyContin, Sonata, Tylenol, Valium, Xanax. Whether it's to address anxiety issues, insomnia or pain relief, at one time or another, many of us have relied on over-the-counter or prescription drugs to help us make it through the day (or the night).

According to the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, there are two standard forms of alcohol addiction among older Americans. The "hardy survivor" is the person who has reached 65 and has been abusing alcohol for years, while the "late onset" individual has abused alcohol (usually accidentally) later in life. The triggers for alcohol abuse among the elderly include the following:

--Death of a close friend, family member, pet or spouse.

--Family conflict.

--Loss of income or financial strain.

--Mental (depression, memory loss, etc.) or physical (major surgery, etc.) health decline.


--Relocation or placement in a nursing home.


--Trouble sleeping.

The problem is that what can begin as a temporary crutch to cope with a life challenge slowly turns into a dangerous dependency -- especially among seniors. Older Americans appear to have an increased risk when it comes to benzodiazepines -- nicknamed "benzos" -- because they can interact with alcohol as well as less harmful medications. With opioid drugs, the main danger, as revealed in an interesting article in the February 2018 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, is that "they stop you from breathing." According to a study by Keith Humphreys and his researchers at Stanford University, the overuse and misuse of opioids has become a serious health issue.


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