Older addicts have life situations that are markedly different from those of younger addicts, but that does not mean they cannot come into a lasting recovery. In fact, older addicts of any age can absolutely enter and stay in recovery.
There most definitely are issues and situations that are unique to older addicts. Some of these are disappointment at how life has turned/is turning out for them, perhaps a sense of loss that comes from not having been successful or a failed marriage or not having healthy relationships with their children, and perhaps a sense that time is running out to make amends for past destructive behavior. All these situations can lead to depression and isolation, which in turn lead to continuing substance abuse.
Maybe the older addict has been abusing drugs or alcohol since early in life and has no coping skills to handle their isolation and estrangement from society, family, and friends. Because of this, they have no skills as to how to build the necessary bridges to reconnect. Another roadblock to entering recovery is a feeling of discomfort about entering treatment due to the fact that most treatment centers are filled with much younger people.
Even though these are strong difficulties, they can be overcome, and new coping skills can be introduced, practiced, and a more positive view of self-value can be embraced. It is estimated that by the year 2020, 4.9 million older adults will be in need of substance abuse treatment. This may be because of the current epidemic of drug use among baby boomers.
Nevertheless, older adults can be taught skills for handling destructive self-talk and cravings. One of the problems that need to be addressed is decreased responsibility and more free time, which leads to boredom and feelings of uselessness. Therefore, positive self-talk techniques can be utilized and older addicts can ask themselves questions such as “What do I like?” “Who do I like?” “What can I do today that will be fulfilling?”
“Are there senior centers close-by?” “Are there volunteer opportunities in my community where I can pass time that is ‘worthwhile’?” Most AA and NA meetings have older addicts in attendance, so there is a good comfort level there for the older addict, and going to meetings is critical for staying in recovery, not to mention a wonderful opportunity to develop a new community of friends and interests.
Older addicts possibly would find outpatient programs better suited than inpatient programs so that they are not in living quarters with younger people. For example, the taste in music and conversation might be uncomfortable or outright annoying. There are therapists who are educated in dealing with older addicts, and they are well versed in teaching techniques that are age appropriate. These therapists are aware of the difficulties that some older addicts may face due to possible impaired brain functioning because of many years of abuse.
Having taken all the difficulties into consideration, recovery is still indeed attainable for the older addict. Like the younger addict, there needs to be a compelling desire to seek help and to do the required work to stay clean and/or sober. Easy, certainly not. Attainable, you bet!
So if you are an older addict, do not think it is too late for you. It most assuredly is not too late. Like your younger counterpart, it is the most important thing you will ever do; get clean, and stay that way. Who knows? After a year or so, you might find yourself being a sponsor to an AA newcomer. Your years of experience can be highly valued by newcomers, and isolation and boredom can become a thing of the past.