Addiction is a complex disease that can affect almost anyone, regardless of their age, ethnicity or financial circumstances. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that nearly 1 million Americans aged 65 and older are living with a substance use disorder. Seniors can also develop behavioral addictions, which are addictions that don't involve drugs or alcohol.
At Bethesda Gardens in Fort Worth, Texas, we want residents to feel empowered to make good decisions about their health and well-being. If you're concerned about any of the following addictions, consider scheduling an appointment with a doctor or mental health professional.
As the name implies, a substance use disorder involves some type of ingestible substance, such as alcohol or marijuana. When you think of substance use, you probably think about binge drinking or taking illegal drugs. What many people don't realize is that certain medications have addictive properties, making it possible to develop a substance use disorder even if you've never tried an illegal drug in your life. Alcohol use disorder and opioid use disorder are two of the most common substance use disorders affecting today's seniors.
Alcohol use disorder is a medical condition that makes it difficult to control your alcohol use. People with AUD may drink more in one sitting than intended or find themselves unable to reduce the amount of alcohol they consume each week. As AUD worsens, some people find themselves struggling to think about anything other than when they'll have their next drink. Alcohol use disorder may even cause seniors to stop spending time with loved ones or participating in their favorite activities because they'd rather stay home and drink alone.
Opioid use disorder has symptoms similar to those of AUD, but instead of drinking too much alcohol, people with OUD misuse opioid medications. In some people, opioids produce a sense of euphoria, a pleasant feeling that makes it easy to forget about the stresses of daily life.
Seniors who want to experience that euphoria again and again may take more medication than prescribed or mix opioid medications with other drugs. Over time, it takes larger doses of opioids to achieve the same euphoric effect, leading to physical dependence and addiction.
Some people get addicted to behaviors that make them feel good. Therefore, it's possible to develop an addiction even if you never drink, take prescription painkillers or use illegal substances. Some seniors get addicted to gambling, while others become addicted to playing mobile games. These behavioral addictions, also known as lifestyle addictions, can have serious consequences.
Gambling compulsion affects up to 10.4% of adults aged 55 and older, according to a study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry. Seniors with gambling compulsions may spend much of their time thinking about gambling, have difficulty controlling their gambling activity or feel irritable when they can't gamble.
Smartphones have many helpful uses, from communicating with loved ones to looking up information on local attractions. Seniors also use their smartphones to play mobile games, an inexpensive form of entertainment. Although these games are fun, they can also be addictive, especially for seniors who have anxiety or depression. Loneliness is also a risk factor for gaming addiction, as lonely seniors may play mobile games as a way to feel less isolated.
Although substance use disorders and behavioral addictions can have some serious consequences, it's possible to get your behavior under control. Here are some changes to implement if you're concerned about your substance use, gambling or mobile gaming habits.
If you have a behavioral addiction, it's easier to control some of the symptoms if you avoid known triggers. For example, if you have a gambling compulsion, avoid casinos, bingo halls and racetracks. Instead of going to Las Vegas on vacation, plan a day trip in the Fort Worth area or stick to family-friendly destinations that don't have a reputation for gambling.
If you spend too much time playing mobile games, try replacing your smartphone with a model that doesn't offer internet connectivity. You'll be able to make calls and send texts, but you won't be tempted to spend hours playing mobile games.
To reduce the risk of developing an opioid use disorder, take all painkillers exactly as prescribed. As your pain level improves, your doctor may recommend taking fewer doses per day or switching to an over-the-counter pain reliever.
Some addictions, such as gambling compulsion, develop due to feelings of loneliness and isolation. A better way to address these feelings is to get involved. Instead of spending most of your time in your assisted living apartment, go to common areas and introduce yourself to other residents. Plan a trip to the Kimbell Art Museum or the Dallas World Aquarium. Spending more time in the real world can also help you avoid becoming addicted to mobile games, as you'll be too busy having fun to worry about what's happening in the virtual world.
Addiction is a serious concern for adults of all ages. The good news is that you can take steps to prevent substance use disorders and behavioral addictions. If you're still concerned about your risk, consider asking your doctor to perform a screening and refer you to an addiction treatment professional if needed.
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