Opiate Addiction in Older Adults

Published April 1, 2020 by:
opiate addiction - opiates - opiate - support for opiate addiction - royal life centers at puget sound

Opiate Addiction in Older Adults

In the United States, opiate addiction continues to be one of the primary contributors to drug addiction, abuse and overdose – accounting for over 67% of all overdose cases. Today, we are going to take a deeper dive into opiates, what addiction looks like, what treatment is available and how to best facilitate the recovery process – especially as it pertains to older adults.

The Facts

When it comes to understanding addiction, it is important to first see the facts. Though drug related deaths have declined in recent years, medical experts actually believe that opiate related deaths have increased. There are approximately 47,000 deaths per year from prescription pain medicine abuse – more than 130 people PER DAY. According to CNN Health , as of January 2019, the National Safety Council finds that the odds of dying from an opioid overdose in the United States is now GREATER than dying in a car crash. These numbers and statistics are staggering.

This becomes especially frightening when it comes to older adults. It is far more common for older adults to experience recurring pain, depression and anxiety and sleep disturbances. This leads to massive amounts of prescriptions being written by doctors for narcotic over the counter drugs. Many adults, around 27%, report that they’ve taken prescription narcotics for more than 20 years. Not only that, but pain medicine can quickly become one of the most dangerous gateway drugs. Once addiction gets to be too much, some 40% of abusers realize that heroin is significantly more affordable than over-the-counter painkillers, and make the switch, resulting in an entire new world of problems.

What does Opiate Addiction Look Like?

Sometimes it is hard to spot addiction, especially in an older adult. As our bodies change and break down, it becomes very important to pay attention to any unusual signs that your loved ones may be displaying. Here are some of the things to look out for when you fear that someone in your life may be abusing opiates:

  • Growing distant or losing touch with others
  • Losing interest in things they once enjoyed
  • Memory loss
  • Unexplained mood swings
  • Health and hygiene decline
  • Falls, clumsiness or lack of spatial awareness
  • Weight loss

As the body begins to age, it becomes harder for our metabolism to process the chemicals found in narcotics. This can lead to more pronounced effects, especially when it comes to risk of fall and injury. The cognitive impairment that comes with opiate addiction can lead to dangerous situations and accidents, the older the user is. For some of the other calling cards, like distance or memory loss, many family members incorrectly chalk that up to age, which prevents them from taking action and caring for their loved ones in need. Ask questions, get involved. If you feel as though something is off, it’s highly possible that it is. Don’t be afraid to care!

What Treatments are Available for Addiction?

Once you have identified that abuse is occurring, be it for yourself or for someone you love, it is imperative to know first and foremost that you are not alone. Help is available, and there are medical professionals trained specifically in the case management of adults and/or individuals 65 years or older. Typically, this demographic does not have the social support that is required when in recovery. For this reason, case management services are crucial in reclaiming a healthy and safe living style.

There are many treatments available and resources for anyone fighting through addiction. Many treatment professionals use Medication-Assisted Treatment to help detoxify the body and reduce the potential symptoms of withdrawal associated with dependence. Other effective methods for recovery include:

  • Therapeutic approaches
  • Twelve step programs and group based support, such as Narcotics Anonymous
  • One on one counseling
  • Music therapy
  • Family intervention and support
  • Ongoing case management

How Can I Help Support my Loved Ones?

One thing that you may be asking yourself right now is, how you can best be a pillar of support for someone you love. Or, you may be on the opposite side and wonder how you can ask for help. Again, what is important to keep reminding yourself, regardless of which side you fall on, that you are NOT alone. Let’s take a look at these questions to really determine what you can do, or what you need to ask for when beginning or during the recovery period. Here are some essentials for recovery support:


Being in recovery can be demoralizing, frustrating or emotionally straining. Being a beacon of hope in the life of someone in need can make a huge difference in their stability. Helping your loved one follow their treatment plans, stay organized and keep on track with what their wellness counselors recommend could be the difference between living drug-free or relapsing. Alternatively, it is more than okay to ask for this level of support from your family if you are in need.

Embrace Abstinence from Substances

Embracing the concept of removing all addictive substances from your life is tough, especially if it has been a regular part of your routine. It may be a challenge to think that total abstinence is possible. This is another area where family and friends can shine. By constantly being an advocate for healthy living and detoxification, you can create an atmosphere of positivity for someone who needs it. This goes with our next suggestion…


This may sound repetitive, but we can’t stress this enough. Positivity and optimism, creating and fostering hope is one of the most amazing gifts you can give someone in recovery. While it’s important to establish boundaries and not smother, keeping your interactions positive and helping to create a social environment of smiling faces will make the differences.

Healthy Hobbies

What better time to find new ways to bond? In times of trouble, a person who is in recovery from opiate addiction may lose interest in things they once enjoyed. By encouraging and empowering your family or friend to try something new, you may not only help them get past their bump in the road, but unlock for them a new passion that they didn’t even know they had. Have a weekly movie night, find similar interest in books, learn to cook new recipes together, go on bike rides or long walks. If you are the one reaching out, it’s definitely not unrealistic to invite a loved one over for a board game or bad movie night!

Ultimately, it is important that you start by understanding addiction, the causes and the pains and then finding positive and healthy ways to retake life. Whether you are the one fighting or a family champion trying to help, there are resources and professionals available to you to make this fight a winning one.

Reach Out

If you or someone you know is struggling with an opiate addiction, please reach out to us at (877)-RECOVERY or 877-732-6837. Our team of addiction specialists make themselves available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Because We Care.

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