During National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week (January), The Haven at Pismo shared some startling data related to alcohol use. Fatal alcohol-related liver disease (ALD) is on the rise in the United States. What’s more, 25- to 34-year-olds succumbing to ALD almost tripled between 1999 and 2016. The takeaway is that drinking can do irreparable damage in a short duration; unhealthy relationships with alcohol can steal a life before an attempt at recovery is made.
Heavy drinking and the practice of binge drinking is common among many young adults. Keg parties and “blackouts” are a part of many twenty-something-year-olds’ lives. Binge drinking is often defined as women consuming four or more drinks in about two hours, and men consuming five or more.
While most people will curtail their drinking as they transition from college to the workforce, a statistically significant proportion will not. Those who continue to drink hazardously are bound to experience adverse effects. However, risky alcohol consumption is not merely a young person’s problem, nor is binge drinking; older Americans struggle too.
As more and more “baby boomers” transition into retirement across the country and throughout San Luis Obispo County, some seniors are fostering new relationships with alcohol. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that baby boomers – people born between 1946 and 1964 – are binge drinking at an alarming rate. What is even more concerning, the NIAAA says that AUD is on the rise among this demographic as well.
The most recent available data indicate that an estimated 2.5 million older Americans are living with alcohol or substance use problems, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD).
Older Adults Struggle with Alcohol in SLO County and Beyond
When people who battle substance abuse from a young age don’t find treatment, their disease often results in premature death. As a result, older demographics make up only a small portion of the number of individuals seeking treatment each year. However, with more older Americans drinking additional significant amounts than they ever did before, some are developing alcohol use disorder.
How does one make it through their whole adult life, only to form an unhealthy relationship with drugs and alcohol as a senior? First off, baby boomers or children of the 1960s on, are known to have reasonably liberal outlooks about substance use, when compared to other generations.
As people age and settle into their golden years they can be struck by the loss of close friends, loved ones, and spouses. Idle time (boredom) in combination with grief is a recipe for loneliness resulting in a desire to anesthetize. And, deteriorating health conditions add to those factors. Substance use may alleviate some of the pain that comes with aging, but it’s is guaranteed to bring about new problems.
“You become more sensitive to [alcohol and drugs] as you get older,” Colin Quennell, program supervisor for the County of San Luis Obispo Health Agency’s Drug and Alcohol Services Department. “It can make health conditions worse.”
Even though more and more seniors are becoming dependent on drugs and alcohol, Quennell points out that only 43 out of the thousands of clients who went to treatment in SLO County from January through August of 2018 were seniors, according to New Times. Recovery is possible for older adults, and it is likely that more and more will seek it in the coming years. Quennell spoke at the SLO County Veterans Memorial Building recently; he shared that he has a family member who got sober in his 80’s.
“There’s no age limit for a person starting out getting clean and sober,” said Quennell.
Nancy Gottlieb, clinical director for the Santa Barbara branch of the Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, serving the California Central Coast, stresses the importance of primary care physicians (PCP) screening their elderly patients for alcohol and substance use problems. While older Americans are relatively liberal when it comes to drinking, they are still susceptible to the stigma that looms over addiction. Gottlieb says that they may not be willing to contact an addiction treatment center for help, but they may respond honestly to questions from their PCP.
“There’s a big percentage of people who will answer honestly and get help if you just ask,” Gottlieb said. “So there’s been a real push to get primary care physicians to ask these kinds of questions.”
SLO County Addiction Treatment
If you are a senior who has an unhealthy relationship with drugs and alcohol, then The Haven at Pismo can help. Our Central Coast private, addiction recovery center is equipped to treat men and women, old and young adults alike. Please contact us today to learn how we can help you live a life free from drugs and alcohol.