In the less than twenty years from 1992-2008, the rate of older adults (50+) admitted to substance abuse treatment has more than doubled in the United States. By 2020, the figures from 2000 are projected to double again, both in the U.S. and in Britain. Studies in both countries have found that as this large population of drug addicts continues to age, new challenges to their medical, psychological, and socioeconomic well-being rise as well.
One survey by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and another published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing shed light on these challenges. Most of the aging addicts they spoke to began experimenting with drugs as teenagers, some as a result of cultural trends at the time, and others in response to personal trauma such as child abuse or the death of a parent. Many were struggling with loneliness and social isolation, and the group presented higher-than-average rates of divorce and relationship breakdown, directly attributed to their drug use. In addition, these addicts were dealing with numerous health conditions that shortened their life expectancy, again often as a result of their years of drug use.
Perhaps most striking was this juxtaposition: the majority of aged-fifty-plus drug addicts said they wish they had never started using and would strongly discourage young people from trying drugs in the first place, yet many were still actively using the substances to which they’d been addicted for years, even with access to therapy, counseling, and substance abuse programs. According to UCLA Psychologist Adi Jaffe, Ph.D., many of the leading in-patient addiction programs don’t last long enough to be effective, especially if a person has been using drugs for years. Says Jaffe, a 30-day program isn’t long enough to change their habits, and even the National Institute on Drug Abuse recommends 90-day programs, at a minimum. The longer a user is addicted, the more ingrained their habits become and the more likely they are to have become isolated from non-addicted friends and family in their lives. Effective addiction therapy needs to be based on what will be most effective in helping the addict recover, not on what length of time is most convenient, financially or otherwise.
© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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