Treatment Options and Rehab for Older Adults and the Elderly

Last updated on November 4th, 2019

  • What Is Addiction Rehab for Older Adults?
  • About Addiction in Seniors
  • Addiction Treatment Process for Older People
  • Inpatient vs. Outpatient Treatment Centers for Seniors
  • Luxury Rehab Facilities for Aging Adults
  • Choosing an Addiction Program for Seniors
  • How to Find the Right Rehab for Older Adults

Older adults in rehab There are more than 43 million people aged 65 and up living in the United States. Accepting help for substance abuse and addiction is fraught with stigma for many people, especially for the large population of seniors. Being in addiction treatment with younger generations often is not an optimal recovery situation.

Seniors have shown to be more comfortable, participate more, and have better outcomes when sharing their stories with peers who are also in addictions recovery. However, older adults may need additional help when it comes to overcoming addiction problems.

Through specialized rehabilitation (rehab) programs, many older people are finding the help they need to overcome an addiction to drugs or another substance.

What Is Addiction Rehab for Older Adults?

Addiction in older adults can be difficult to deal with due to how the body reacts as it ages.

Many people find it surprising that so many seniors suffer from addiction to drugs or alcohol. Isolation, loneliness, untreated depression, stigma, and lack of mobility are some of the barriers for older adults who have substance abuse and addiction issues to access treatment.

The aging of the baby-boom generation is resulting in a dramatic increase in levels of illicit drug use among adults 50 and older. These increases may require the doubling of substance abuse treatment services needed for this population by 2020. Now decades later, there is an aging population in need of age-specific addiction rehab.

Addiction in older adults can be difficult to deal with due to how the body reacts as it ages. For example, while a younger person may not experience severe symptoms of withdrawal from a substance during the detoxification (detox) process, an older adult may react much differently.

Mental decline in older adults can also lead to taking a prescription drug more or less often than prescribed or in the wrong amount. Due to the way an older person handles the rehab process, monitoring from medical professionals who are specifically trained in addiction rehab for seniors is needed.

About Addiction in Seniors

Each stage of life presents us with challenges as well as opportunities. For older adults, common obstacles to life satisfaction and happiness include declining health, social isolation, grief, loss, family discord, and financial uncertainty. Loneliness and isolation place seniors at a high risk for emotional distress, physical discomfort, substance abuse, depression, despair, and suicide. To further complicate matters, older adults may be prescribed a myriad of medications that when mixed with alcohol or street drugs can have lethal consequences.

Like others, seniors are often reluctant to seek treatment or they don’t know where to turn for help. Professional addiction treatment and community support can often alleviate the pain and distress that many older adults struggle with on their own.

Unfortunately, addiction in older adults is often missed by family, friends, and even medical professionals partly because symptoms are often described as nagging physical pains, inability to sleep, or low energy. Symptoms of addiction in older adults are often seen as the inevitable result of growing old and not signs of substance abuse or addiction.

Addiction Treatment Process for Older People

Older adult with rehab therapist Recovery from an addiction involves treatment for physical dependence along with treatment for psychological addiction. Often, before an older adult commences with therapy to address the numerous psychological aspects of addiction, he or she must first complete a detox period, wherein physical withdrawal from the abused substances occurs.

Many addiction treatment centers incorporate a structured and supervised detox program to slowly wean patients off addictive substances rather than simply forcing them to stop using all at once. The time it takes to wean a patient off a substance will depend on the specific person along with the nature of the substance. When dealing with addiction in older adults, it’s important that the patient is monitored at all times by a professional during the process to ensure safety.

Once an older adult patient successfully detoxes from a substance, ongoing substance abuse therapy begins. Most often, senior patients can expect to work with addiction counselors both on a one-on-one basis and in group sessions in an effort to help combat the addiction fully.

Like other addiction treatment facilities, senior rehab centers are designed to cater to each individual patient. While one person may find success by working extensively in a group setting, another may find success working with a therapist individually.

Many senior treatment facilities try to involve not only the patient in therapy, but also the person’s family and other loved ones. Family therapy, in conjunction with individual and group therapy, help form a solid foundation for addiction treatment.

Verify Your Benefits at an American Addiction Centers Facility

The cost of alcohol or drug addiction treatment may appear to be an obstacle, but we are here to help. Insurance may cover all or some of your rehab.

Find out if your insurance covers long-term addiction rehabilitation.

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Inpatient vs. Outpatient Treatment Centers for Seniors

When you’re ready to get help for an addiction problem, you will need to decide if inpatient or outpatient rehab is the best option. There are benefits and disadvantages to each type of addiction treatment program. It’s important to consider all the factors involved so you or your older loved one can get the right treatment to meet your specific needs. Seniors need to feel comfortable in their surroundings, which is why choosing an addiction treatment facility that specializes in older adults is the best option for most people.

Another major factor that should be considered when looking at addiction rehab programs for seniors is the number of treatment options available to a highly diverse population. The type of treatment administered to a patient can play a significant role in how successfully the patient overcomes addiction.

For example, if an older adult goes to an addiction rehab facility that doesn’t offer a treatment plan that is right for them, he or she may be less willing to complete the program. However, when a patient is provided with a treatment plan that works well with his or her unique needs, they are more likely to complete rehab successfully.

Luxury Rehab Facilities for Aging Adults

If work-related circumstances have hindered you or a spouse from getting care for addiction, an executive rehab may be of interest. Leveraging upscale addiction treatments with the flexibility of occasional computer and phone access, an executive can get sober and begin recovery away from the company spotlight and stress.

Many luxury rehab facilities provide amenities one would normally expect in four- and five-star hotels, with the person’s success and health being the biggest goals. From fine linens and gym facilities to in-house massage therapy and private rooms, patients can get the best addiction treatment while also enjoying lush surroundings.

Choosing an Addiction Program for Seniors

Older adult in wheelchair Choosing the right senior addiction treatment center can be difficult. Programs that specialize in working with the senior population are highly desirable not only because issues of accessibility are addressed but staff members are trained in gerontology.

Accessibility, such as accommodations for wheelchairs, hearing loss, and visual impairment is often a key concern and should be addressed by any rehab program working with seniors. In addition to substance abuse disorders, many seniors have pre-existing, co-occurring health issues that need to be assessed and addressed by rehab programs that treat the senior population.

How to Find the Right Rehab for Older Adults

A solid addiction rehab program for older adults needs to treat their patients holistically because seniors with other psychological, physical, and medical issues must be treated concurrently in order for recovery to be successful. A number of treatment options exist that offer comprehensive services geared toward older adults with substance abuse disorders.

Recovery from addiction is possible at any age or stage in life.


  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016). Age and Gender-Based Populations.
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2010). Increasing Substance Abuse Disorders among Older Adults.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Drug Facts: Drugged Driving.

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