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Maria A. Sullivan

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date: 23 October 2021

Addiction in older adults very often goes unrecognized, for several reasons: social biases about the elderly, age-related metabolic changes, and the inappropriate use of prescription benzodiazepines and opioids to address untreated anxiety and mood conditions. Alcohol or substance-use disorders (SUDs) in older individuals may present in subtle and atypical ways. Strategies to overcome such difficulties include systematic screening using validated instruments, patient education regarding the impact of psychoactive substances on health, and cautious prescribing practices. Relying on standard DSM criteria may result in a failure to detect an SUD that presents with cognitive symptoms or physical injury, as well as the absence of work or social consequences. Older individuals can benefit from the application of risk-stratification measures, and they can be referred, e.g., to age-appropriate group therapy and non-confrontational individual therapy focusing on late-life issues of loss and sources of social support, as well as be offered medication management for alcohol or substance use disorder. Although research has been limited in this population, treatment outcomes have been found to be superior in older adults than younger adults.

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