Senior Addiction: “How Do We Know If Our Parents Have A Problem?”

Suzanne Wachtel

We worry about our children, we commit our lives to helping our kids recover and reclaim their lives. I’ve written many articles about the pain and struggles surrounding a child with addiction. From loving them to dealing with their death… addiction has taken a very large place in our family dynamics.

When we parent an addict, it consumes us, debilitates us and breaks the bank emotionally and financially! With that being said, most families are not discussing the hardship of an elder in the family suffering with addiction. From mood swings, to sadness to extreme anger… seniors are dealing with addiction big time! Doctors have been prescribing opiates for pain to seniors without hesitation over the past 15 years. Leaving us now with mothers, fathers, uncles, and aunts suffering from addiction with all of the trimmings!

Most families have been noted as having said “they are old, let them get wasted” attitude. There are specialty rehabs for seniors suffering from addiction with a very low number of clients. Most seniors are addicted to pain medication, oxycodone, Percocet etc.… and Xanax, Klonopin and other highly addictive medications that doctors have prescribed for decades without a second thought.

Now that so many doctors are under the microscope for over prescribing highly addictive, dangerous drugs, seniors are having trouble getting refills on their prescriptions. These seniors that had no idea they were addicts, are facing withdrawal, dope sickness and have no idea what is going on. Many seniors in pain are being turned away and being told that they can no longer fill their prescriptions, without going to detox, without understanding that these medications that they rely on are red flagged and under scrutiny.

I work with a family whose father is 78 years old. He has had 3 spinal surgeries over the past 8 years and has been prescribed pain medications for years. He has been and continues to be in chronic pain, so the doctors continued to prescribe pain pills and Xanax the never was told that he was becoming addicted to the medication he became dependent upon.

Suddenly, this elder, was facing the reality that his addiction to pain medication was so advanced, that no doctor would prescribe more than 10 pills at a time, after he had been getting more than 120 pills at a time!

He went into withdrawal; depression, pressure drops (50/102), sweats, diarrhea, vomiting, shaking and severe mood swings. The family had no awareness that this was withdrawal from opiates (same as heroin) and that these were serious drugs. Not detoxing safely (in a medical environment) could in fact kill him! Many of our seniors are addicts and have no idea. Neither do their families…Please be aware that this is a huge growing epidemic and talk about it.

Suzanne Wachtel, LCSW is a no nonsense, seasoned psychotherapist.
She has a private practice in Boca Raton, Florida and
devotes much of her time to helping those struggling with addicted
loved ones and the loss of family members to drugs. She arms
us with tools to cope and strategies to handle the pain that goes
hand in hand with loving an addict. She is kind, insightful and very
wise. Suzanne lost her own son to a heroin overdose 3 years ago.
Her goal is to not let it identify her but instead, to take the experience
and use it to teach and help others. Life is not what happens
to us … It’s how we handle it that matters. Through individual and
groups, she helps us heal.
Suzanne can be reached at http://therapy-boca.com or at
Swachtelcsw@gmail.com