Age and Substance Abuse

Age and Addiction
As we grow older, our bodies undergo several chemical and physical changes that alter the way we react to the world. When it comes to alcohol and drug abuse, this means that we can expect certain behavioral aspects to change and the trends to vary when looking at people in different age groups. Numerous studies have been done on the way that age affects drug and alcohol use and vice versa, and results show that there are definite correlations between substance abuse and the age of the addict.

Age of First Alcohol Use
Statistics have shown that those who start to drink alcohol at a younger age are more likely to become dependent later on. About 33% of the population tasted their first alcohol between the ages of 15 and 17, while 18% experienced it prior to this. As for alcohol abuse or dependence, the numbers start off high with those who first drank before they were 12 and then drop off after that. For example, 16% of alcoholics began drinking prior to turning 12 years old, while only 9% first touched alcohol between 15 and 17. This percentage is even lower, at 2.6%, for those who first started the habit after they were 21. These statistics clearly show that introducing a person to alcohol at a very young age can put them at severe risk of dependence or abuse later on in life.

Alcoholism in Teenagers
It has been shown that binge drinking is most prominent in youngsters between the ages of 18 and 22. As mentioned before though, alcohol abuse can start many years before this, and is a serious problem in today’s society. It is estimated that approximately three million teenagers in the USA are alcoholics and that 5,000 deaths each year can be connected to underage drinking.

For those who do binge drink, there may be difficulties in then obtaining many of life’s major goals, such as progressive career development, finding love, getting married, achieving financial independence, and receiving a higher educational qualification. This can then lead to further problems later on in life.

When treating an underage alcoholic, it is essential to realize that their behavior can stem from several other psychological disorders, such as:

* Depression
* Anxiety
* Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)
* Antisocial Personality Disorder

Any treatment will have to focus on these disorders as well as dealing with the root problem of alcohol dependence or abuse. The drinking habits of the parents will also have to be considered as this can have a very influential effect on how a child behaves. In the treatment of an underage alcoholic, it may be important for the parents to make some sacrifices as well.

Alcohol Abuse in Older People
While alcoholism is dangerous at any age, these risks are even more pronounced when a person gets older. Once over the age of 65, it is possible for alcohol dependence of abuse to lead to a myriad of physical symptoms and a higher risk of injury or even death. The following are very real situations which can occur in the elderly who drink in excess of the recommended amount:

* The onset of cancer, liver damage and brain damage.
* A worsening of conditions such as osteoporosis, diabetes and high blood pressure.
* Increased confusion or forgetfulness, which could be mistaken for Alzheimer’s.
* Increased risk of problems, such as heart attacks, as symptoms are hidden by the effects of excessive drinking.

It is also more likely that those over 65 will be taking medication, such as aspirin, laxatives or antihistamines. Mixing alcohol with these types of drugs can lead to symptoms such as internal bleeding, liver damage or constant drowsiness. Some medications also contain alcohol which can heighten the effect and lead to more pronounced risks in the aging alcoholic. In some cases, as with sleeping pills or anti-depressants, the results can be deadly.

Alcohol dependence and abuse in the elderly can stem from a variety of psychological disorders, such as depression, boredom, anxiety and loneliness. These root causes have to be tackled in any sort of treatment programs, whether this is done through a rehabilitation clinic or under family supervision at home, since they are the underlying reason why the patient feels the need to drink so often.

Drug Use, Teenagers and Young Adults
Like with alcohol, the earlier someone starts to use drugs, the higher the chance that they will grow to abuse or become dependent on them later on in life. In 2003, the average age for first drug use among admissions to substance abuse treatment facilities was 18.6 years. Among these patients, 14% started to use drugs prior to the age of 13 with marijuana being the earliest reported drug of abuse. Looking at total admissions and the drugs used, 23% used marijuana, 9% used stimulants, 5% used opiates and 4% used cocaine prior to their 13th birthday. Most of these underage drug users were referred to treatment programs through their schools or the criminal justice system. One interesting thing to note is that the number of admissions of those who took drugs prior to being 13 years old remains fairly unchanging regardless of how many past admissions they have had. This shows that their tendency to use remains in spite of spending time within drug treatment centers, especially in these younger users.

Overall, statistics have shown that illicit drug abuse rises with age until it peaks at those around 18 to 20 years old. After this, it decreases steadily as people get older. In 2001, 22.4% of drug users were aged 18 to 22. Compare this to the 3.8% of 12 and 13 years and the 4.5% of those aged 26 years and older who take illegal substances. In total, 51% of all illicit drug users were aged 12 to 25. These numbers vary with the type of drug though, and we can see that this age group prefers hallucinogens and inhalants. On the other hand, drugs such as cocaine and psychotherapeutics were used more commonly in those aged 26 and above.

Drug Abuse and the Elderly
Substance abuse is not just a problem for the youth of today, however. Painkillers, sleeping pills and other over-the-counter drugs can be a real risk for those aged 40 and above as well. Figures in this field are rising and new treatments will have to be developed to cater for this new group of drug dependent patients. Even though these individuals may have regular contact with the medical profession, the symptoms of drug abuse may go unnoticed and untreated. It is up to the families to keep an eye out for signs that their relative has grown dependent on their medication instead of using it as directed.

As well as this, as time goes on, the drug users of today will grow up and, if they still retain the habit, will have to be treated when they are older as well. Estimates show that by 2020, the US will require twice as many drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs as it does today. Whether the focus is on cannabis, cocaine, or painkillers, the need is there to develop the necessary procedures to treat the growing number of aging clients that is expected over the next decade or so.

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