Substance abuse disorder presents the greatest challenge to a person in old age. There has been a steady rise in incidents of substance abuse in old age. For instance, in 2001, 58,000 persons above 55 years got admitted for treatment of substance abuse (TEDS, 2006). Also, a sizeable portion of elderly people (11-33%) develop alcohol use disorders with late onset (TEDS, 2006).
There are various effects of substance abuse disorders on the elderly. Persons who have a history of drinking since they were young are at a higher risk of contracting chronic alcohol-related medical conditions such as organic brain syndrome, cirrhosis and co-morbid psychiatric disorders at old age. According to Comer (2011) due to the age related body composition changes in older people, higher blood alcohol concentrations get produced by an equivalent amount of alcohol taken by a younger person.
TEDS (2006)showed that the risk of developing a psychiatric disorder increased fivefold in elderly men with a history of drinking. Their cognitive ability may also be affected. Psychiatric disorders mean the people will have a higher probability of drug abuse, which may complicate their health especially if they are under medication.
Substance abuse may also lead to a decline in the mental health of an elderly person. Changes in their brain also interferes with their ability to control their behavior, think clearly, exercise proper judgment and feel normal without drugs (Comer, 2011). This will lead to instances of emotional breakdowns especially when one stays a long period without consumption.
Interpersonal functioning also gets adversely affected by substance abuse. This will be apparent as the elderly people will tend to become withdrawn and not social. Since substance abuse leads to depression, interpersonal functioning difficulties will be noted as there is a strong association between IF difficulties and depression.