Art of Aging: Senior addiction

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The abuse of alcohol and drugs by seniors has become a fast-growing health problem in the United States. (WPVI)

The abuse of alcohol and drugs by seniors has become a fast-growing health problem in the United States.

Jerry kept the wraps on his alcohol use in his professional life.

"I was more of a private drinker, at-home drinker, not a social drinker out," he said.

But it did plenty of damage at home.

And daughter Brenda and her siblings just couldn't reach him.

"Both in conversation and in letters, begging, pleading, you know, as he said, until he was ready, it fell on deaf ears," said Brenda.

After retirement, Jerry finally realized how much he'd hurt his children and grandchildren.

"They didn't want anything to do with me. They didn't want their children to be around," said Jerry.

The kids just weren't sure the grandkids were safe.

David Rotenberg of Caron Treatment Centers says substance abuse is rising fast among those over 60.

"Frankly, there's not enough drug and alcohol treatment centers to keep up with the demand," said Rotenberg.

Federal agencies say 20 to 30% of 75 to 85-year-olds have had alcohol problems.

Up to 20% have abused drugs, mostly prescription ones. And some have problems with both.

"Alcohol, benzodiazepines, opiate medications are the top three," added Rotenberg.

Rotenberg says seniors take more medications than any other age group - often a dozen or more, with little cross-checking between doctors.

Seniors can't burn off 2 or 3 drinks like they did at 40 or 45.

There are also psychological stresses, like anxiety, grief, and disabilities.

Seniors have vast differences in how they take in new information, how they hear things, their reverence toward doctors," said Rotenberg.

To meet those differences, treatment centers like Caron now have units specifically for seniors.

Jerry says addressing his problem, and getting the right help, turned his life around.

"It's not a disgrace, it's not an embarrassment. It's a sickness, an illness," he said.

And Brenda says he's a super grand-dad now.

"They love following him around, he loves showing them things, and none of that would have happened before," she said.

For more information on senior programs, visit our Art of Aging section.
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