Is It Ever Too Late to Get Sober?

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Last Updated - 05/11/2024

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Updated 05/11/2024

Key Takeaways

  • The prevalence of substance use disorders (SUDs) among older adults is a growing concern.
  • Chronic pain, loneliness, physical health issues, mental health disorders, trauma history, and medication interactions are key risk factors for SUDs in this population.
  • Many older adults believe it’s too late for them to achieve sobriety due to stigma, fear of change, lack of information, and physical pain.
  • Effective recovery strategies for older adults include the continuum of care model, evidence-based screening and interventions, and strong support systems.
  • Embracing sobriety at an older age can lead to improved physical health, mental clarity, financial stability, better relationships, quality sleep, and overall life satisfaction.

Substance Use in Older Adults

The prevalence of substance use among older adults is a growing concern, with 4% of adults over the age of 65 living with a substance use disorder in 2022. Data from various sources show the extent of the issue.

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that adults aged 65 and older had the largest percent increase in drug overdose deaths from 2021 to 2022, at 10%. 
  • In a study of 3,000 adults between the ages of 57 and 85, over 80% of the participants used at least one prescription medication per day. Almost half of this group used more than five medications. 
  • 25% of patients over the age of 50 who misuse their opioid or benzodiazepine prescriptions reported suicidal ideation in 2018.
  • 65% of people over the age of 65 reported high-risk drinking behaviors in the past year.
  • Over one-tenth of adults over the age of 65 binge drink.

Risk Factors for Substance Use Disorders in Older Adults

Several risk factors increase the likelihood of developing SUDs in this population:

  • Chronic pain: Older adults are more likely to experience chronic pain, which can lead to the misuse of prescription opioids or other pain medications.
  • Loneliness and isolation: Social isolation, loss of friends or family members, and retirement can contribute to feelings of loneliness and depression, leading some older adults to turn to alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism.
  • Physical health issues: Chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, or cancer, can increase the risk of developing SUDs, especially if individuals use substances to self-medicate or alleviate symptoms.
  • Mental health disorders: Older adults are at higher risk of developing mental health disorders, such as depression or anxiety, which can increase the likelihood of substance misuse.
  • History of trauma: Older adults who have experienced trauma, such as abuse or neglect earlier in life, may be more vulnerable to developing SUDs as a way to cope with unresolved trauma.
  • Medication interactions: Older adults often take multiple medications, which can interact with alcohol or other substances, leading to unintentional misuse or addiction.

It’s important for healthcare providers and caregivers to be aware of these risk factors and to monitor older adults for signs of substance misuse or addiction. Early intervention and appropriate treatment can help prevent the escalation of SUDs in this population.

Why Do Some People Think They’re Too Old to Get Sober?

Many older adults hold the belief that it is too late for them to achieve sobriety, a misconception influenced by various factors. 

  • Stigma: One significant reason is the perceived stigma associated with addiction in their generation, particularly among those over 75 who grew up when addiction was seen as a moral failing. This stigma can lead to shame and a tendency to hide substance use issues. 
  • Fear of change: This fear can be a powerful deterrent, as older individuals may feel overwhelmed by the prospect of altering long-standing habits and facing recovery’s challenges.
  • Lack of information: There is often a lack of research about the effectiveness of addiction treatment in later life. Misconceptions about addiction and recovery may contribute to the belief that it’s too late to seek help. 
  • Physical pain: It may be difficult to discontinue the use of drugs or alcohol when you’re in a great deal of pain without these substances. Conditions like arthritis or cancer make it hard to function while sober. However, keep in mind that there are healthier ways to deal with this pain and discomfort.

Contrary to these beliefs, stories like Cathy’s, who got sober at 76, demonstrate that recovery is possible at any age and can lead to a more fulfilling life. The narrative that one is ‘too old’ to get sober overlooks the numerous benefits that sobriety can bring to older adults, including improved health, relationships, and life satisfaction.

Effective Addiction Recovery Strategies for Older Adults

Recovery from substance use disorders (SUDs) in older adults requires tailored approaches that address their unique challenges and needs. 

The continuum of care model has been suggested as a framework for monitoring and evaluating healthcare delivery for older individuals with SUDs. This model encourages a sequential, step-by-step progression through treatment, which can be crucial for older adults who may need a more gradual approach to recovery.

Evidence-based screening, assessment, and interventions are vital for addressing substance misuse in this demographic. The protocol highlights the necessity for healthcare providers to be well-versed in these practices to effectively support older adults in their recovery journey.

Support systems play a significant role in the recovery process. Recovery community centers (RCCs) and recovery coaches (RCs) offer various services and resources, including recovery coaching, meetings, and employment assistance. These services are designed to be flexible to multiple recovery strategies and provide a supportive community for older adults striving for sobriety.

Individualized Treatment for Older Adults

At The Recovery Village Columbus, we offer comprehensive addiction treatment in Ohio. We provide a full continuum of care, beginning with medical detox. After completing detox, patients can transition to residential treatment, partial hospitalization services or intensive outpatient care. We employ licensed and certified addiction professionals, and we are accredited by the Joint Commission, so you can rely on us for quality opioid addiction treatment.It’s time to get your life back. Call our Recovery Advocates to get started on your recovery journey. Same-day admission is often available.


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When you call our team, you will speak to a Recovery Advocate who will answer any questions and perform a pre-assessment to determine your eligibility for treatment. If eligible, we will create a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs. If The Recovery Village is not the right fit for you or your loved one, we will help refer you to a facility that is. All calls are 100% free and confidential.

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