Get Help Now 760-492-6385

Older adults diagnosed with substance use disorder (SUD) have a higher risk of experiencing multiple co-occurring disorders, affecting both their mental and physical health. According to Clinics in Geriatric Medicine, “Certain life events and social transitions common in late life may . . . heighten the risk of substance use or misuse.” Approximately 30% of the population is 65 or older, and up to 10% report misusing alcohol or drugs within the last year. West Coast Recovery Centers provides personalized treatment plans to help older adults recover from substance abuse and co-occurring conditions. 

Dual Diagnosis and Older Adults

Most older adults with SUD have a dual diagnosis. According to the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, in one study of individuals over the age of 60, “Over one-third (37.6%) had a substance abuse disorder [SUD] in addition to a psychiatric disorder, and almost three-fourths (71%) of this ‘dual diagnosis’ group abused alcohol and 29% abused both alcohol and other substances.” Meanwhile, older adults with a dual diagnosis have a higher risk of severe injury, illness, or suicide. 

Some of the most common co-occurring conditions diagnosed in older adults include: 

  • Major depressive disorder (MDD) and other depressive disorders 
  • Anxiety disorders, including specific phobias
  • Dementia and other neurocognitive disorders

Dual diagnosis introduces significant challenges for older adults in treatment for substance abuse. West Coast Recovery Centers provides support services and psychoeducation to ensure clients and their loved ones understand the realities of addiction recovery for seniors. Often, older clients have less social and community support. Clinicians at West Coast Recovery Centers ensure all clients have access to the information and resources they need to make informed decisions about their care.

Mental Health Challenges Experienced by Older Adults

Baby boomers are one of the largest aging demographics, and their risk of substance abuse is higher than previous generations. Boomers grew up in the 70s and 80s when drug use was becoming normalized across the country. As a result, many older adults have a history of SUD and an increased risk of developing alcohol or drug abuse later in life. According to Drug and Alcohol Review, “Compared with earlier cohorts, baby boomers had greater exposure to alcohol, tobacco and illicit substances in youth, developed a higher acceptance towards drug consumption and, as a result, are more susceptible to substance use.”

Positive mental health reduces the risk of relapse. However, older adults have increased risks of experiencing mental health issues, including:

  • Loneliness and social isolation 
  • Peer pressure
  • Boredom and lack of meaningful activities 
  • Financial stressors

Older adults may also misuse prescription medications meant to manage mental health disorders. Memory issues or other factors can cause seniors to unintentionally take medications in a way other than prescribed. In addition, older adults sometimes misuse substances as a way to cope with undiagnosed physical or mental health issues. According to the Administration on Aging (AOA), “Older women are at higher risk because they are more likely to use psychoactive medications, especially benzodiazepines.” Individuals taking psychoactive medications have a higher risk of substance abuse if they experience co-occurring depression or social isolation. 

Personalized Treatment for Older Adults

Older adults benefit from personalized treatment programs during recovery from substance abuse. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “Physical risk factors for substance use disorders in older adults can include: chronic pain; physical disabilities or reduced mobility; transitions in living or care situations; loss of loved ones; forced retirement or change in income; poor health status; chronic illness; and taking a lot of medicines and supplements.” Addiction recovery programs must address these potential physical risk factors to help older adults maintain sobriety after completing treatment.

Dual diagnosis makes it more difficult for some clients to recover from SUD. Most older adults in treatment benefit from the following: 

  • Family participation in therapy
  • Aftercare planning
  • Case management 
  • Medication reminders and management 
  • Peer support, including self-help groups

Seniors often face stigmas surrounding substance abuse and treatment, making it difficult for them to access the services they need. Older clients may need additional aftercare and alumni services to ensure they have the support and resources they need to maintain sobriety and manage co-occurring disorders. Clinicians work closely with clients and their loved ones to create relapse prevention strategies aimed at reducing the physical and mental risks caused by co-occurring conditions. 

How to Help Seniors in Treatment Maintain Sobriety

The side effects of aging and the symptoms of co-occurring mental health disorders may cause some older clients to struggle with abstinence in recovery. Chronic conditions may also require people in recovery to take certain medications, increasing their risk of misusing or abusing prescription medications or relapsing. According to the previously mentioned article by Clinics in Geriatric Medicine, “Older adults take more prescribed and over-the-counter medications than younger adults, increasing the risk for harmful drug interactions, misuse, and abuse.” 

Seniors in treatment benefit from the following:

  • Healthy social engagement with peers, friends, and family 
  • Regular physical and mental health check-ins with a family doctor
  • Following daily schedules and routines

West Coast Recovery Centers helps clients and their loved ones manage dual diagnosis during treatment for substance use disorder by providing essential recovery services and additional support during aftercare.  

Treatment for dual diagnosis comes with more significant challenges for older adults due to increased risk factors, including age-related health changes. Older adults often face additional stigmas surrounding substance abuse and treatment, making it more difficult for them to get the help they need. Early intervention is the best way to address co-occurring conditions before they cause severe side effects for older adults. However, people 60 years and older may struggle to access recovery support resources. West Coast Recovery Centers provides evidence-based treatments to older adults struggling with substance abuse. Care plans are personalized to the unique needs of each client. To learn more about our programs and services, call us today at (760) 492-6509.

West Coast Recovery Centers ( 370135CP), Valid through July 31, 2025
Jackson House Visalia (540056AP), Valid through May 15, 2025
DHCS Licensing and Certification Division