Addiction in the Older Patient

Addiction in the Older Patient

Maria Sullivan and Frances Levin

Print publication date: Aug 2016

ISBN: 9780199392063

Publisher: Oxford University Press


Addictive disorders in older adults are underdiagnosed and undertreated. An important reason for this lack of recognition of a serious health problem is a paucity of clinical knowledge about how such disorders present in this population. The presentation for alcohol and substance use disorders in the elderly can be confusing, given the metabolic changes and concurrent conditions associated with aging, together with interactions between alcohol and prescribed psychoactive drugs. Further, screening instruments have not been validated for this population. Brief interventions may be effective but should take into account contextual needs such as medical conditions, cognitive decline, and mobility limitations. Treatment strategies, including detoxification regimens, need to be modified for older patients and - in the case of opioid dependence - must address the management of chronic pain in this population. Ironically, benzodiazepines are the most frequently prescribed psychoactive medication in the elderly, despite older individuals' greater sensitivity to side effects and toxicity. Older women are at particularly heightened vulnerability for iatrogenic dependence on sedatives and hypnotics. More clinical research data are needed to inform screening and referral strategies, behavioral therapies, and pharmacological treatment. At the same time, emerging technologies such as communication tools and monitoring devices offer important opportunities to advance addiction treatment and recovery management in older adults. Although research to date has been limited in this population, recent data suggest that treatment outcomes are equal or better to those seen in younger cohorts.