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Drinking and Depression in Seniors: A Catch-22

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Depression among older adults is a risk factor for alcohol abuse, so drinking and depression in seniors often go together.  However, drinking and depression do not mix! Seniors may drink to escape from their depression, yet alcohol is a natural depressant which will cause more of a downward spiral making the person actually feel worse.  Alcoholism and depression are co-occurring disorders affecting more and older adults.

Recent findings from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism show that 20-30% of people ages 75 to 85 have experienced drinking problems.  Depression affects 15 out of every 100 adults over age 65 in the US.  Depression is not a normal part of growing old but rather a treatable medical illness that impacts more than 6 million of the more than 40 million Americans over age 65.

There are a number of reasons why substance abuse and depression increase as a person ages:

Loneliness — older adults may drink excessively to mask their loneliness and isolation.

Pain — alcohol may be abused to treat pain.

Stress & Anxiety —when drinking a glass of wine to ‘unwind’ gets out of hand, older adults my abuse alcohol to reduce stressors in life.

Lifelong Problem — an older adult may have had substance abuse issues throughout life, but now they’re exasperated with aging which triggers it in later life.

Medications and alcohol don’t always mix well, especially when the meds are anti-depressants.  So the cycle of using both substances can actually cause a person to go backwards in the treatment process because of the mixed use.

It’s important for seniors to recognize when they may have a problem.  Substance abuse is harder to treat in older adults because the metabolism slows down, a person is on multiple prescription medications, and they may be suffering from pain or illness.  But it’s critical to get help before alcohol problems worsen.  There are very effective interventions like integrating substance abuse and mental health for treatment.  Gerontology Network specializes in providing integrated care for co-occurring disorders in older adults.  They offer outpatient programs, counseling, support groups and case management services specifically to meet the needs of older adults.

Help is available through Gerontology Network.  Older adults can successfully overcome depression and substance abuse and live healthy, productive lives.