Overcoming an Substance Abuse: What You Should Know About Healing

By on January 17, 2019
Substance abuse

When you hear “drug addiction,” the first image you conjure up is likely not of an older man or woman. You may be surprised to learn that substance abuse is an increasing epidemic among adults over the age of 50, and opioids are a prime concern.

Adults in this age group are prescribed more medications than any other age group. Oftentimes, these individuals seek treatment for chronic pain conditions, and opioids are prescribed to control that pain. But because their discomfort is continuous, they may take these prescriptions for longer than is recommended. If opioids, such as oxycodone, are taken for extended of time or too frequently, a person can develop an addiction.

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A recent study found that in 2015, 15 percent of older adults were prescribed opioids following a hospital discharge. Three months later, 42 percent of the patients were still taking those medications, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Additionally, a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that one in three people who’ve taken opioids for at least two months become dependent on the pain medication. Almost all long-term opioid users say they were introduced to these medications via a doctor’s prescription, but six out of 10 said that their doctors didn’t offer any advice on how or when to stop taking the pills.

Older Adults and Opioid Addiction

It isn’t about chasing a high, though. Clare Waismann, a certified addiction treatment counselor and founder of the Waismann Method of Advanced Treatment of Opiate Dependence, explained that older adults who get addicted to opioids often have misdiagnosed or non-diagnosed mental conditions, such as anxiety or depression. In addition to pain relief, the opioids provide a break from emotional suffering. However, the longer the opioids are used, the higher a person’s tolerance becomes.

“You need more and more to feel the same effect,” Waismann said. “Then you find yourself with issues like you can’t get enough prescriptions, and if you can’t get enough, you get ill. So you call different doctors and tell them different symptoms. You start crossing lines.”

Fear of Withdrawal Prevents Healing

When someone goes through withdrawal, they experience symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, muscle aches, sweating, lack of sleep, nausea and exhaustion. Detoxing can make a person feel so terrible that they choose to keep using instead.

“Most patients mean to go through withdrawal, but then it’s so bad they say, ‘Just give me a little and I’ll go through this tomorrow,’” Waismann said.


Older adults addicted to opioids don’t need to be afraid of withdrawal. Waismann suggests going through medical detox, during which the patient will undergo a medical and emotional assessment and experience withdrawal symptoms under medical supervision. Patients with other medical conditions will be supervised by a cardiologist and an internist as well. Medical detox takes place in a hospital so if any problems arise, the patient can get the specialized help they need.

Though there’s a stigma around receiving treatment for drug abuse, those struggling with opioid addiction shouldn’t be afraid to seek help. Whether they first reach out to a loved one for assistance or volunteer for detox, asking for help is the first step to recovery.

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Overcoming an Substance Abuse: What You Should Know About Healing