Contributor: Cascade Behavioral Health clinical team member, Erica Smith, M.A., NCC.
When it comes to painkiller abuse and opiate dependency, people do not commonly associate such behaviors with the elderly population. Unfortunately, however, senior citizens are one of the populations at the greatest risk for developing a dependency on common prescription pain medications such as OxyContin, Vicodin, and Percocet.
These opiate substances are prescribed to help alleviate severe pain and work by binding together opioid receptors in the brain and the nervous system. In doing so, individuals will not only feel a reduction in their perception of the pain they are experiencing, but will also experience a reduction in the emotional responses that they have as a result of the presence of pain.
This emotional numbing can lead people to feel as though they have entered into an overall state of physical and emotional well-being. These pleasurable feelings can quickly become addictive.
What Puts Senior Citizens at Such a High Risk?
So what puts senior citizens at such a high risk for developing such an addiction? The simple answer is that older adults experience pain more often than other populations. In particular, adults over the age of 60 are at a high risk of suffering from back pain as the result of a degeneration of the joints in their spines. Such degenerations can lead to chronic lower back pain like that associated with spinal stenosis and osteoarthritis.
When individuals suffer from this type of chronic back pain, they may experience pain that is so severe that they have difficulty functioning on a daily basis, have difficulty performing normal, everyday tasks, and even have difficulty sleeping.
Understandably, these individuals will want to find relief from their symptoms and will therefore go to their doctors in order to find appropriate ways to manage their pain so that they can resume normal functioning. In many cases, the solution to managing severe, chronic pain is through the use of narcotic, opioid painkillers.
When used appropriately and taken directly as prescribed by the doctor, these medications can provided the much needed relief that these individuals need. However, because of the highly addictive nature of these medications, they can quickly become used as a means of obtaining a high as opposed to simply finding relief from pain.
If you suspect that an older adult in your life is abusing prescription opiates, here are some warning signs to look out for:
- Fills prescriptions for the same medication and more than one pharmacy
- Receives prescriptions for the same medication from two or more different doctors
- Displays feelings of discomfort or defensiveness when questioned about the medication usage
- Taking more of the medication at one time than has been directed by his or her doctor
- Using the medication at a higher frequency than has been directed by his or her doctor
- Always appears to have medication on hand at any given time
- Displays behavior changes that appear to coincide with his or her medication usage
- Frequently thinks about or talks about medication
Planning an Intervention
If you have noticed your loved one displaying any of these signs, then it may be time to consider planning an intervention. One of the first things that you can do is to speak to the doctor who prescribed the medication.
Due to privacy laws and restrictions, the doctor will likely not provide you with any information specific to your loved one, but he or she should be able to go through what behaviors may be indicative of the fact that your loved one is not taking the medication as prescribed.
If the doctor is not willing to provide you with any information, even when speaking in generalities, you can do further research on the particular medication that your loved one is taking via the internet.
There are countless forums, blogs, and medical websites that can provide you with crucial information that may help you learn about the medication itself, discover potential side effects of the medication, and find out whether or not your loved one’s behavior patterns matches those of which you research.
Get Your Elderly Loved One the Help Needed for Opiate Dependency
In addition to the aforementioned, here are some other things that you can do in order to get your elderly loved one the help that he or she needs for an addiction to opiates:
- Ask your loved one if he or she will allow you to accompany him or her to his or her next doctor’s appointment.
- Take notes of specific behaviors that have elicited concern and share them with your loved one.
- After doing research, provide your loved one with the information you have learned about the dangers of opiate abuse and dependence and help them understand that, if the problem remains unaddressed, the consequences can be extremely detrimental.
- Anticipate an angry, hostile, or defensive initial response from your loved one, and remain calm and rational in your explanations.
- Seek out treatment options and share them with your loved one. Go through the various types of treatment available and work with your loved one in finding one that will best meet his or her specific needs.
- Ask for help. It is beneficial to have the support of other people in your life as you try and help your loved one regain a life of sobriety.
Opiate dependency is an extremely dangerous path to walk down. However, with comprehensive therapeutic interventions and proper support, individuals can overcome their addiction, find new ways of managing their pain, and leave the path of addiction behind while starting on the road to lasting sobriety.
About the Author:
“Senior Back Injuries Leading to Opiate Dependency” was written by Cascade Behavioral Health clinical team member, Erica Smith, M.A., NCC. Erica has several years of experience working in the treatment field as a clinical therapist and has her Master’s degree in Clinical Counseling Psychology from the American School of Professional Psychology.
Cascade Behavioral Health is leading provider of specialized behavioral healthcare and chemical dependency treatment. With the goal of providing patients with the absolute highest level of customer satisfaction by offering the highest quality of care and the highest quality of services to everyone who comes through our doors.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published on September 20, 2014
Reviewed and Updated by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 4, 2021
Published on AddictionHope.com