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Substance Use Disorders Among Older Adults

Jul 14, 2020

When the Covid-19 pandemic began, much attention was put on a higher risk for older adults to contract the virus and since then a secondary health impact on this age group has become clear. It comes from the impact of social isolation on seniors, many who are living alone and struggling with substance use disorders, mental health disorders, or both. Today, let’s look at this new behavioral health challenge that’s grown over the last several months and what an effective response to it looks like.

Older adults living with a substance use disorder may experience additional risks to their health and well-being during the pandemic. Those risks could come in the form of more frequent substance use to cope with the stressful changes of social isolation, exacerbation of existing mental health disorders, such as anxiety or depression, and neglecting basic self-care, including proper nutrition, sleep, and hygiene. If you suspect an aging parent, family member, or close friend with an SUD is in need of rehab for older adults, reach out to a family physician or an addiction specialist right away.

If you or a loved one need help, call our admissions team today at 561-841-1033.

Older adults with SUDs may be impacted significantly by social distancing.

The disruption of social connections with friends, family, and caregivers can be unsettling for an older adult who’s living with a substance use disorder. Their routines are gone and their social time with important people in their lives is on hold. These routines and people may have been contributing to sustaining recovery, and losing these connections can be a factor in relapsing.

Older adults with SUDs may grow more concerned about their health.

Uncertainty over their own health and the risks associated with Covid-19—and the isolation of living alone—could lead them to turn to substance use more frequently and exacerbate any existing mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety. An older adult may recognize the changes to their health and well-being during the pandemic and still not take action to help themselves, making them even more vulnerable.

Older adults with SUDs may ignore compliance with safety guidelines.

As substance use can impair judgment, an older adult may not remain vigilant about safety practices to avoid the spread of coronavirus. This may involve not wearing a mask at public locations, going to public locations with large crowds, or touching surfaces in public places. This can increase their chances of contracting the virus, adding a higher risk for other serious illnesses.

Older adults with SUDs may experience mental health issues over financial concerns.

The financial impact of the pandemic may feel devastating to older adults with limited income and shrinking resources as loved ones also take an economic hit. Anxiety over how to remain living independently in their own home or the uncertainty over what they’re housing situation might look like in a few months can lead to increased substance use.

Older adults with SUDs living alone may not receive proper attention and care.  

Unlike an aging family parent living with you, the older adult living independently and in isolation now may not have anyone monitoring their well-being day to day. Changes in mental health go unnoticed and use of alcohol or off-label use of medications go unchecked. Even basic self-care, such as proper nutrition, sleep, and hygiene, can be neglected by an older adult with an SUD and co-occurring mental health disorder.

If you suspect an aging parent, family member, or close friend with a substance use disorder is struggling with social isolation in a way that’s affecting their sobriety, reaching out to a physician or an addiction specialist can be a helpful first step. Although it may be difficult to assess from a distance, staying in touch by phone or visiting in person using safety measures (such as wearing a mask and speaking through the door) are ways to check on the well-being of an older person in your life. Facilitating entry for them into a program providing treatment for a substance use disorder and a co-occurring mental health disorder may be the next step.


Hanley Center – A Path to Recovery

Hanley Center is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance use, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renowned clinical care and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting recovery.

For information on our programs, call us today: 561-841-1033.

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