Get help today 888-287-0471 or sign up for 24/7 text support.
American Addiction Centers National Rehabs Directory

Drug and Alcohol Rehab Program for Seniors or Elderly Near Me

Addiction Treatment for Seniors or Elderly

Respect for elders is something that is instilled in most of us when we are young. Imagining that someone we look up to and admire could have an addiction problem is hard, but addiction issues among the elderly are becoming increasingly common. Your loved one may not have sought out drugs on the street, but nowadays that is not where most addiction starts. Sadly, addiction to prescription medication has been one of the leading reasons that patients seek admittance to drug treatment programs.

What Is a Rehabilitation Center for Seniors?

Aside from nursing homes and skilled nursing and rehabilitation centers, there are age-specific treatment programs and approaches in rehab centers for the elderly that may provide the most effective care for older clients. Just like with general adult patients, after an assessment, treatment is individualized according to each patient’s needs. When nursing homes or skilled nursing and rehabilitation facilities are unable to provide appropriate SUD treatment for their elderly patients, they are usually referred to addiction treatment centers that can address the unique needs of older patients.4

Cognitive decline issues could affect the client’s ability to participate in treatment. This is why elderly patients might need a treatment provider that is experienced in working with older clients with cognitive problems. There are additional age-related factors to be considered when deciding where to place the client for treatment. if a client uses a wheelchair, for example, they need a facility they can access. Hearing-impaired clients may need individual therapy or small-group therapy that can accommodate their needs.4

As with any drug-addicted individual, a safe withdrawal is the first and indispensable step of treatment. Senior patients in nursing homes usually need to be referred to an outside facility for addiction treatment. This is because most nursing homes can’t offer the necessary level of care, or all the services that are key to successful, safe detoxification and further treatment.4 

However, senior rehab facilities must be able to provide respectful, age-appropriate, and consistent physical health care. In the case of co-occurring disorders, like various mental health issues, depression, PTSD – especially if they’re severe – addiction treatment and recovery are more likely to succeed when those conditions are managed appropriately.4

What Are the Causes of Addiction (Substance Abuse) in The Elderly?

projectknow-shutter74622172-prescription-elderly-manOne of the leading causes of addiction among the elderly is addiction to prescription painkillers. In the 1990s, doctors said that they were responding to patients’ complaints of poor pain management by offering the prescription drug OxyContin for mid-level pain management. OxyContin and other drugs like it, including prescription medications with the primary ingredient of hydrocodone or oxycodone, are very powerful opiates, related to other opiate drugs like morphine, opium and heroin.

Oftentimes, elderly patients begin taking prescription painkillers in an effort to manage pain following an injury or surgery. Sometimes painkillers are given to manage daily aches and pains associated with the aging process. Regularly taking a painkiller can lead to dependence, and sometimes addiction can take hold.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Addiction (Substance Abuse) in Seniors?

People can suffer from alcohol or drug abuse issues at any age. Even though most signs and symptoms of addiction are universal, when it comes to older people, they might be easy to overlook and simply attribute some elements of alcohol or drug-related behavior to old age.1

Age-associated physiological changes might increase the effects of alcohol and drugs. This is why older adults generally have a lower tolerance to these substances, which makes one of the main symptoms of SUD – increased tolerance – easy to miss.1

Other symptoms, related to social or professional responsibilities are simply less noticeable in old age, due to age-related lifestyle changes. Older adults usually don’t engage in the same activities as younger ones, regardless of substance use, which also makes addiction less noticeable. The symptom of craving (powerful desire to use the substance) is usually the same as in the general adult population.1

For example, having balance problems can be a sign of both alcohol use and aging. Older people might have accidents, falls, and even car crashes if they’re still driving. It may not be obvious that these are actually signs of addiction since their tolerance may be lower and smaller amounts of the abused substance can have the same effect on older people as larger ones do on the young. Older people may be able to feel the effects of alcohol or drugs without the need to increase it.2

Aside from alcohol, the most abused drugs among seniors are prescription medication, like opioid pain medication, and benzodiazepines. Abuse of these types of drugs can cause confusion and forgetfulness and because these symptoms can also be attributed to old age, dementia, or the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, it would be easy to miss their true cause.3

How Are Substance Use Disorders Treated in Older Adults?

There are a lot of stereotypes about the unwillingness of older adults to accept the fact that they have a substance abuse issue. However, this population group is generally open to drug or alcohol treatment if they are offered appropriate programs in age-specific groups and using age-sensitive treatment approaches.4

A continuum of care in addiction rehab for older adults ranges from least to most intensive. There are brief interventions, outpatient or intensive outpatient treatment programs, approaches that offer mental health services that accompany the SUD treatment, as well as inpatient detoxification and rehabilitation for more severe cases.4

Continuing care should go beyond achieving abstinence from substance use or reducing it. It should also aim to improve the quality of life of elderly patients. Substance abuse treatment goals are not much different from treatment goals for other chronic conditions.4

When it comes to treating older adults, they include:4

  • Helping elderly SUD patients participate in treatment and recovery throughout the continuum.
  • Finding ways to help them find or maintain motivation to change their risky behaviors so they can improve both their health and quality of life.
  • Using multiple age-appropriate treatments and approaches, including pharmacotherapy and psychosocial tools and interventions.
  • Reducing the risk of relapse. 

What Are the Short-Term and Long-Term Effects of Substance Abuse in the Elderly?

Short-term effects of drug or alcohol use in the elderly can be more serious than in younger adults. Most of them take multiple medications, so both their nonmedical use and harmful interactions between different prescription medications with illicit drugs or alcohol can lead to dangerous outcomes, including overdose.4

The immediate effects of excessive alcohol use include the increased risk of many harmful health conditions, injuries, falls, drownings, traffic accidents, poisonings, or overdoses from opioids and other substances.5

When older adults go through the process of withdrawal, it may cause their other medical issues to worsen, like heart disease or diabetes, for example. It may also aggravate their mental health problems like anxiety and depression.4

They’re also at a greater risk for withdrawal-related medical and neurological problems since older adults normally have higher rates of co-occurring physical and mental disorders, as well as cognitive impairments. Increased sensitivity to medications used to treat withdrawal symptoms, like benzodiazepines, for example, may also present a challenge. Older patients can also show signs of delirium or seizures during withdrawal.4

Long-term effects of alcohol or drug abuse can include:2

  • Development of certain types of cancer, liver damage, or stroke.
  • Worsening of existing conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, ulcers, memory loss, and mood disorders.
  • Forgetfulness and confusion, which are symptoms that could be mistaken for signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

What Are the Statistics on Substance Abuse in the Elderly?

The use of illicit drugs has historically been much lower in older adults than in others. However, it has been increasing. Despite the fact that the use of illicit drugs tends to decline after young adulthood, 2018 data shows that almost a million older adults over 65 suffer from alcohol or drug addiction. The percentage of older adults that entered rehab for the elderly grew from 3.4% to 7% between the years 2000 and 2012.3 Alcohol is the most misused substance among the elderly, followed by heroin.6

Additionally, the proportion of adults aged 55 and older seeking treatment for opioid addiction increased 54% between 2013-2015, and the percentage of older adults using heroin more than doubled during the same period. One of the reasons for this is that some people begin by misusing prescription opioids and then replacing them with heroin as a cheaper option.3

Seniors get prescribed more medication than any other age group due to age-related chronic health conditions. This can lead to misuse of potentially addictive medication like opioid painkillers. Approximately 80% of them use at least one prescription drug every day and nearly half of older adults take more than 5 prescription drugs or supplements, which puts them at elevated risk for harmful drug interactions. Abuse of benzodiazepines or opioid medication is not uncommon among the elderly, and 25% of seniors who do that experience suicidal ideation.3

Between 4% and 9% of people over the age of 65 take prescription opioid pain relief medication. Cannabis use by the same age group increased from 0.4%, during 2006 and 2007, to 2.9% in 2015 and 2016.3

Alcohol is by far the most used and abused substance among older adults. About 65% of them (65+) report high-risk drinking. The largest number of admissions into rehab centers in this age group is related to alcohol abuse. One of the studies documented a 107% increase in alcohol addiction among older adults (65+) from 2001 to 2013.3

Addiction Treatment Program for the Elderly

Finding yourself addicted to your prescription medication can make you very angry and scared. If you became addicted to something your doctor gave you, how can you trust doctors to help? The best drug treatment centers will understand your reservations and your fears. There are private drug addiction treatment programs that focus on taking the special needs of elderly patients into consideration. Your comfort and privacy are their first concern.

“Getting the toxic drugs out of your brain and body is a critical first step for any drug counseling program.”What happens in drug rehabilitation? Knowing what to expect from the top drug addiction treatment programs can help give you the courage to reach out for help. The first step for most private drug treatment centers is to gently take patients through medically supervised detox treatments. Getting the toxic drugs out of your brain and body is a critical first step for any drug counseling program. Drug counseling will involve learning new skills to help cope with issues of addiction. Patients who are fighting to overcome addiction focus on recovery better after a thorough detox program, which leaves them better able to comprehend the new things they will be learning.

Luxury/Best Rehabilitation Centers for Seniors

High-end drug addiction treatment programs have full staffs of medical and psychiatric professionals who specialize in the treatment of addiction. Having these kinds of experts to help you can make all the difference to your recovery. Top drug rehabs offer dual diagnosis treatment; this treatment is ideal for those who suffer from a mental health issue in addiction to an addiction problem. It’s been shown that addressing both issues simultaneously is the best way to get well.
projectknow-shutter207102862-old-couple-talkingAnother great service offered by the best drug treatment programs is family therapy. When addiction has come into the family, the person who with the addiction is not the only one affected. Often, other family members have also felt the pain of addiction and there may be some confusion, sadness, hurt feelings and even anger. By involving the whole family in the recovery process, all of these feelings can be heard, respected and explored compassionately. That way, when the patient returns home after addiction treatment, there will be a loving environment to come home to with strong relationships to support the person as he or she tries out strategies learned in a drug addiction treatment facility.


How to Choose Drug and Alcohol Rehab for the Elderly?

Addiction rehab programs for older adults should be tailored to their age-specific needs. These elements of the treatment program might help the elderly decide to enter and stay in treatment and improve their rehabilitation treatment experience.4

While there are older adults that benefit from mixed-age treatment, they usually feel more comfortable in age-specific programs. This is particularly important for those with multiple chronic, co-occurring health conditions and daily functioning problems, as well as those aged 75 and older.4 

For instance, 60-85% of older adults who participated in age-specific inpatient treatment programs were still abstinent 12 months after leaving treatment. In general, recovering individuals may experience positive outcomes of programs that offered:4

  • Both individual and group therapy.
  • Community activities.
  • Adapted programs for the elderly, like slower pace programs, or adaptations for vision, hearing, or cognitive issues.
  • Support groups with a special focus on topics like grief, loss, isolation, health issues.

There are public and private agencies that keep directories of addiction treatment facilities and programs. This type of directory can provide information about senior rehab facilities and programs they offer. They usually list factors to consider when deciding on a treatment facility for an older adult, like the type of treatment/facility, location, accessibility to public transportation, availability to age-sensitive services, eligibility criteria, cost, and staff experience.4

State-level alcohol and drug agencies oversee the licensing and program review for all substance abuse treatment programs in that state. If you’re looking for a senior rehabilitation center near you, there’s a statewide directory of all licensed SUD treatment programs at

What Is a Typical Day Like in a Rehab Facility for Seniors?

In the mornings, the facility staff usually makes the rounds to check on the patients and assist those who might need help with dressing, bathing, or other daily personal care tasks. After breakfast, patients usually attend one of their individual or group therapy sessions. Around noon and lunchtime, patients get a chance to socialize with others if they feel comfortable doing so. Their willingness to socialize may change during separate phases of treatment. There may also be other therapy sessions in the afternoon, depending on each individual’s situation and the level of care they require.4

Dinnertime and evenings are usually devoted to socializing. This is encouraged if the patient is comfortable with it since loneliness is often one of the mental health-related elements that might contribute to substance abuse. Patients unwilling to socialize with others can use this time for family visits or relaxing. In some facilities, family members are welcome to attend therapy sessions to help with motivation, if the specific treatment plan allows for it.4

Depending on the severity of addiction, treatment plans are personalized and flexible since older adults face unique issues during treatment. Both individual and group treatments are recommended:1

  • Individual therapy offers private and confidential space for older adults to deal with their unique issues. 
  • Group treatment can help with feelings of isolation and shame related to addiction.
  • Elder-specific group sessions can create a comfortable space to discuss age-related issues with peers.6 These are led by professionals with expertise in geriatric SUD treatment.1

The programs for elderly patients must consider accessibility to those using wheelchairs or print reading materials in larger types to accommodate patients with vision impairments. The staff may be trained to talk slowly and more loudly.6

Factors and elements that produce the most positive outcomes in inpatient rehab for seniors include:4

  • Group therapy.
  • Focus on ways to manage distress, deal with grief, depression, unpleasant emotions.
  • 24-hour nursing care.
  • Access to medical, mental health, and social services.
  • Personal care aides, if necessary.
  • Family involvement in treatment.

How to Find Best Rehab for Seniors Near Me?

For elderly people, facing addiction can be especially humiliating and painful. You don’t need to be embarrassed or afraid; know that addiction is a disease that can affect anyone at any age. You can call to speak to one of our drug rehabilitation experts who can guide you compassionately to a rehab center that can help. Call now.

Frequently Asked Questions

Was this page helpful?
Thank you for your feedback.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is committed to delivering original, truthful, accurate, unbiased, and medically current information. We strive to create content that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.

Read our full editorial policy

While we are unable to respond to your feedback directly, we'll use this information to improve our online help.