What does it look like in older adults?
A substance use disorder (SUD) is a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. The regular use of alcohol and/or other drugs produces changes in the brain which strongly reinforce the behavior of drug use, teaching the person to repeat it. These behavioral changes are also accompanied by changes in brain function, especially in the brain’s natural inhibition and reward centers.
In addition to the their high susceptibility to COVID-19 morbidity and mortality, older adults face unique complexities in their physical and mental health that make them particularly vulnerable to the effects of alcohol and drugs. When older adults use drugs or alcohol, they’re at high risk for harmful drug interactions, cognitive decline, injury, sleep problems, mental health issues, memory problems, liver disease and cardiovascular disease.
Physicians play a key role in increasing awareness in older adults about the relationship between substance use and health outcomes, including risk for COVID-19. There are a variety of elder-specific techniques and patient-centered approaches designed to be incorporated into clinical practice to help identify, refer, and/or treat substance use in older adults. In general, older adults experience better treatment outcomes with providers that understand the unique issues and complexities of older adults.
People who are addicted to alcohol and/or other drugs have changes in their brain that affect the following areas:
- Behavioral Control
- Emotional Regulation
- Activities of daily life (job, education, etc.)