Dual Disorders in Geriatrics

There are two types of elderly addicts: those who become addicted to drugs or alcohol before age 65, termed “early-onset addicts”, and those who do so after age 65, termed “late-onset addicts.” Early-onset addicts are those who have abused drugs and alcohol throughout their lifetime, becoming dependent and addicted to illicit substances at a younger age and perpetuating this addiction as age advances. This group of elderly addicts is thought to make up two-thirds of the geriatric alcoholic population and may have more physical and psychiatric issues than late-onset addicts, according to the Psychiatric Times.

The New York Times further publishes that between 14 and 20 percent of the elderly population have suffered from either a mental health disorder, substance abuse disorder, or both, according to a national survey in 2010. Mental illness often co-occurs with substance abuse. Those diagnosed with a mood disorder may be twice as likely to also battle a drug abuse disorder, NIDA reports. In fact, psychiatric disorders and substance abuse may occur as often as between 21 and 66 percent of the time. As we age, physical and mental capacities may deteriorate further blurring the lines between substance dependence and mental illness.

Stressful life changes that often occur as we age may increase the incidence of drug or alcohol abuse, which can develop into a late-onset addiction. For instance, as age advances, loved ones or significant others may pass away, living situations can change, retirement begins, and physical maladies may increase. Drinking or using drugs may begin as a method of coping with these difficult psychological and physical changes.

 

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