What Are Addiction Treatments for the Elderly?

The elderly population is growing rapidly across the United States. Many senior citizens grew up in the culture of free love and drug experimentation of the era that brought in a more acceptable view of recreational drug and alcohol use. Alcohol may be most commonly abused in the older generations and is expected to jump due to high levels of prescription drug use. Learn more about addiction treatments for the elderly.

Stats Speak

Older adults who use prescription drugs are three times more likely to do so than other demographics due to the aging process and caring for ailing health. As of 2010, between 6 and 8 million American senior citizens battled a substance abuse or mental health disorder. Treatment may need to be specialized to support specific, unique needs of this population.

Identifying Abuse in Older Population

It is not always easy to recognize or diagnose a substance abuse or dependency concern in adults over the age of 65. This is due in part to social isolation. Seniors are often retired and no longer work or may live alone, far from family members. Doctors may not want to seem discriminatory towards the elderly but hesitating to diagnose a substance use disorder can be a lethal mistake. Side effects often take shape as signs of aging including:

  • Coping with pain management
  • Dealing with death of loved ones
  • Moving away
  • Decreased ability to do things independently
  • Big life changes
  • Mental health issues
  • Memory loss
  • Agitation
  • Restlessness or insomnia
  • Seeming ‘out of it’
  • Issues with weight

Addiction Treatment

Treatment for the elderly who have addiction is focused on many of the same options for younger people but with a careful lens towards what will help people of advanced age including:

  • Preventative, education and supportive services
  • Medical detox
  • Residential treatment
  • Outpatient treatment

Detox is the safe removal of drugs and alcohol from a person dependent on the substances. Medical detox may use medication to accomplish the process in an inpatient and outpatient setting, depending on circumstances.

Management of medications for the elderly in a detox situation is critical to watch for medical conditions or mental health issues which may arise for this population. Benzodiazepines, while useful for detox, have long-acting or high-dose formulations which may build up in an older person’s body, creating lasting cognitive and toxic effects. Individuals over 65 battling addiction need to find places which offer treatment sensitive to this concept.

Support groups are a great place to connect for individuals in recovery of all ages. Case managers can check in with the elderly to support transition from rehab to community-centered programs and watch for signs of relapse.


The Villa helps guide individuals with addiction to the appropriate resources and tools to aid in recovery. Call us if you are seeking ways to recover from addiction in a healthy way with a focus on long term results.