Flinders: An ageing population is increasingly using alcohol, illicit drugs and prescription medicine means testing times lie ahead for alcohol and other drug treatment services. Pr Ann Roche said current international estimates indicating the number of older people with alcohol and other drug problems, or requiring treatment for a substance use disorder, will more than double from 2000 to 2020, are likely to be reflected in Australia. In addition to the alcohol and drug treatment issues, Pr Roche warned that a wide range of other physical and mental health side effects which will also have to be dealt with.
“It’s not just about the numbers,” said Professor Roche. “Older people’s bodies don’t deal with alcohol and other drug use as well as younger people.
When older people seek treatment for their problems they often also have a range of other physical and mental health issues. This can complicate their care.
“There are three groups of older people who have alcohol and other drug problems in later life. The first group we call ‘the maintainers’, who have used substances for long periods of time without getting into difficulties.
“As they age, this use catches up with them because their bodies can’t cope.
“Then there are the ‘reactors’ who start problem use in older age in response to stressful events such as bereavement, job loss, marital breakdown or social isolation.
“The third group, ‘the survivors’, have had substance use problems for a long time and have reached older age.
“We also expect to see older people seeking treatment for different patterns of substance use problems, with an increasing number needing help as a result of their use of illicit drugs and prescribed medicines such as opioid pain killers and sedatives.”
Professor Roche said that these trends would require significant changes to how Australia provides alcohol and drug treatment services in the future.
Substance use problems among older Australians, and their implications, are to be the focus of a national Conference in Adelaide on 1 April 2015, at the Education Development Centre, 4 Milner Street, Hindmarsh, South Australia.
The Grey Matters National Conference: Responding to Alcohol and other Drug Problems among Older Australians will feature nationally renowned speakers.