"The Aging of Addictions"



Hark! Hark! Hearye! Hearye! The News is out: People are living longer and there will be a major demographic shift that will impact programs, services and resources! Oh sorry, didn't mean to alarm you. It's not new News at all...in fact...it's old news! As a society, we are way beyond being taken by the reality that longevity has increased. We are not surprised to hear that over 10,000 per day in this country turn age 65 and that the fastest growing part of the population today are individuals over the age of 100. This didn't happen over night. As a nation we knew quite well that this trend was occurring. What is surprising, however, is how unprepared we are for it.

The United States is a very moral country. Evidence of our morality is found in our tax codes. As a society, we believe families in the United States should be encouraged to have children; a tax deduction is provided. We believe people in the United States should purchase homes; a tax deduction is provided. We believe that people should be supported for providing childcare or eldercare; a tax deduction is provided. As a society, we also believe that 'Older Americans' (age 60 and above) should have stand- alone support provided by the government, ergo, The development of Social Security in the 1930's and the implementation of the Older Americans Act in the 1960's.

Through the implementation of the Older Americans Act - the Aging Network was established, whereby, each State was required to develop an Office for the Aging at the state-level. Since the signing of this Act, in the mid-1960's, States have developed a presence for older adults. Each state has their own fingerprint as to how they are 'present' for older adults. In some states, there is a County by County presence - with these offices run and directed by local county governments. In other states, county government is not providing these services - but rather they are provided by not-for-profits agencies. Regardless of the composition, Offices for Aging can be found throughout the United States, thereby, there is an extensive 'aging network' available for individuals, family members and professionals that are serving the needs of people over the age of 60 years old. Sounds good right? In many ways it is good, in fact, very good. However, one thing is different now - and that is - people over the age of 60 today, in 2016, have very different needs than people over the age of 60 in 1960. One major difference is the impact of addiction.

One of the most startling statistics I have heard recently is that: 'people over the age of 50, represent that largest growth demographic with respect to the heroin epidemic'. That's right, the fastest growing population of heroin addicts are people over the age of 50. Why? Because the opioid crisis and pain management epidemic is out of control. With more and more people now using pain management medication, with a high-level of addiction, and state & federal regulators clamping down on prescription medications - people are turning to 'street-level' accessible heroin. Couple this fact with the reality that the age 60 cohort of today - had more exposure to drugs and alcohol when they were younger, in comparison to their grandparents generation, - the outcome is that the arena of Addictions is exploding in the over age 60 population. Unfortunately, public policy, agency-based training and the orientation of psychological interventions have not kept pace with the needs of this changing population.

The area of 'addictions in older adulthood' is growing rapidly. The needs of this population is calling out for help, presence and understanding. However, the needs of older adults who are wrestling with addictive patterns require specialized interventions that are truly based upon the foundation of understanding the: perception, psychological needs and cognitive complexity that accompany older adulthood. For sure, there is evidence all around us of: The Aging of Addictions.

L.T. Force, PhD. / Gerontologist


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