Fans who grew up rocking out to the metal sounds of Ozzy Osbourne and band Black Sabbath in the ‘70s, or when he was a solo artist, might have thought his addiction battles were behind him when he revealed he is now fighting one of a different kind.
“Over the last six years, I have been dealing with a sex addiction,” he said via a statement after his affair with his hair colorist was exposed earlier this summer. His wife of 34 years, Sharon, later confirmed the news that he is receiving what he said is “intense therapy” for his condition, during an episode of The Talk, where she is a co-host.
When it was rumored the couple were breaking up earlier this year because he had gone back to drinking and doing drugs, Ozzy denied the then-pending split had anything to do with his past substance abuse.
“I have been sober for three and a quarter years, I have not touched drugs or alcohol in that time. Any reports that I am not sober are completely inaccurate,” he said.
Senior substance abuse problems here to stay
While drugs may not have been the reason for their marriage nearly ending, Ozzy, 67, did start this latest round of recovery when he was well into his 60s, putting him among thousands of other 60-plus-something adults who are facing substance abuse challenges of their own, including senior drinking.
According to various sources, their situations are a sign of what’s to come, as these problems are projected to grow as the US population ages. Alcohol and drug usage rates among seniors are already increasing, a situation that is expected to nearly double by 2030 and outpace the growth of the older adult population if it continues.
According to the nonprofit group Hazelden’s report, “70 percent of all hospitalized older persons and up to 50 percent of nursing home residents have alcohol-related problems.”
The US Census Bureau projects that the number of adults age 65 and older will increase from 40.3 million to 72.1 million between 2010 and 2030, and this increase could potentially overwhelm the nation’s healthcare system’s resources at the rate that it’s going.
When a little means a lot more than it used to
Senior drinking and alcohol abuse is most prevalent among older adults followed by the misuse and abuse of prescription and over-the-counter medicines. Because drinking is socially accepted just about anywhere, alcohol is easy to get and easier to overindulge in; this fact also makes it easier to hide a drinking problem.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study found that in 2010, binge-drinkers age 65 years and older reported binge-drinking more often—an average of five to six times a month.
Drinking large amounts of alcohol spells trouble for anyone, but even more so for older adult drinkers. Aging organs, such as the brain and liver, mean changes in the body’s metabolism, distribution and elimination, making the body more sensitive to alcohol’s toxicity, writes the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Smaller amounts of alcohol affect the central nervous system differently as well, making it easier for over intoxication to occur.
“A major problem, as we get older, is that we seem to be less able to handle our alcohol. For older people, less alcohol causes greater intoxication while complicating secondary medical conditions,” said Damon Raskin, MD, medical Director at Fireside Convalescent Hospital and Good Shepherd Nursing Home, during an insightful Q-and-A interview with The Fix.
Raskin also said it is common to see the abuse of benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, Valium in senior drinking. “I do see combinations quite frequently, and most of them are quite dangerous,” he said.
A Hazelden report says of people over age 65, 83 percent take some prescription and that more than half of all prescriptions for older adults have some sedative.
Some senior drinkers already have high blood pressure, diabetes, and other illnesses and ailments that they’re taking prescription medication for, putting them at higher risk of mistakenly mixing alcohol and their medications. Prescription drugs also stay in the system longer because the aging body doesn’t metabolize medicines as quickly as it once did. Bringing these two substances together can lead to overdose or death.
Ozzy: ‘I am really not happy being sober’
Ozzy, who is in the early-onset population, has been open about his addiction battles in past interviews. His use and abuse started earlier in his life and had continued over the years; and while he says he’s not touched any substances in nearly four years, that does not mean it has been easy to refrain from doing so.
In a recent interview with Goldmine Magazine, the temptations are there as well as the possibility of relapse, and while sobriety is what he says he wants, it appears the sober life isn’t always enjoyable for him.
“I am coming up on three [and a half] years sober, and I’ve just come back from a [recovery] meeting, actually. I’ve reached a really weird place with it. I am not really happy being sober, but I don’t want to get drunk. Someone told me that at three years sober they felt exactly the same,” he told the magazine.
He continued, “With meetings, you’re never alone with your thoughts. My disease will go, ‘You can take this, or you can do this’ when I spend too much time alone with my thoughts. If I listen to it, then I go back, and I am all right for a tour. It only stops being all right when I am f****d up everywhere, you know.”
Why are senior drinking signs missed?
Substance abuse problems in older adults are serious, but often go under-recognized and undiagnosed. The stereotypical drug abuser usually isn’t considered the retiree who’s sitting home, depressed and uncertain about how to navigate a new life with all this free time after years of working.
It’s not the older mom dealing with empty nest syndrome, the dad who has just become a widow, or the elderly couple who recently moved to a smaller house because they now live on a fixed income.
But all of the people in the situations described above can engage in senior drinking to manage their emotions to “get through a rough patch,” and end up becoming the new faces of addiction–though people who know them, and those who don’t, may not think so, and therefore miss key warning signs.
When alcoholism, addiction wear an aging mask
Family, friends, and others do not think of alcohol and drug abuse as being a problem for their older loved ones because aging masks quite a few things, including physical and mental health problems and other symptoms of substance abuse that are commonly confused with getting older.
Some of them are:
*Forgetfulness, memory loss, losing track of time (not remembering what day it is or what time of day it is)
*Coordination problems (such as walking unsteadily, falling)
*Chronic, unexplained aches, pains
*Changes in sleeping schedule (such as sleeping all day, staying up at night), eating habits
*Unexplained cuts, bruises, marks
*Mood changes, irritability, sadness, depression, loneliness
*Lethargy, personality changes, energy levels
It’s reasonable to expect resistance from a loved one who isn’t ready to accept they have a problem or knows they have a problem but won’t address it with anyone, not with their doctors, and certainly not with themselves. Denial makes it harder for medical professionals to pick up on the signs, too.
“They [patients] won’t be truthful or upfront with a doctor, and that puts a doctor at a real disadvantage. You can do all the screening you want, but if you don’t get honest answers, you’re not going to get a correct diagnosis,” he said.
Alcohol, drug abuse possible at any life stage
As Bogunovic explains, older people struggling with substance abuse fall into two groups: early-onset and late-onset abusers. Those with problems that began before age 65 are in the former group, and according to Bogunovic, it is estimated that this group makes up two-thirds of the geriatric alcoholic population.
For people in the late-onset group, which is made up of individuals who are older than age 65, substance abuse develops after life changes and other emotional ups and downs, leaving them vulnerable to developing a drug or alcohol dependence.
Changes that can spark late-onset alcoholism and drug addiction include:
*Failing physical health and/or related concerns
*Deaths of spouses, children, other relatives, friends, pets
*Changes in family structure or responsibilities (such as adult children leaving home or moving far away)
*Changes income, financial stresses
*Moving to new home or new location
Drug use and addiction rep: ‘It was my destiny’
At his recovery meetings, Ozzy said he has heard from group members who believe they are only a drink away from losing their sobriety, something he finds sobering in itself. “It scares me,” he said to Goldmine. “I hear all the time people say that they have another drink in them, but they may not have another sobriety in them. I don’t want to put myself in that situation.”
Despite his reputation for being among the most famous celebrity addicts in rock ‘n’ roll and metal history, the rocker does not regret it, saying “it was my destiny.” He told Goldmine, “I am lucky enough to have seen the errors of my way and wanted to do something about it.”
And doing something about it, even if it’s later in life, is a good thing.
“We do know that older adults respond at least as well as younger ones to substance abuse therapies,” Nora D. Volkow, MD, director of NIDA, wrote in a commentary. “That is why recognizing drug problems in older patients is critical.”
Stay tuned next week on Tuesday, Sept. 19, for Part 3, “Sex, Drugs, and Ozzy: Opiate Abuse Up Among Baby Boomers,” in which we explore illicit and prescription drug use among seniors, who are now the fastest-growing group dealing with opioid dependence and addiction in the US.
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Substance abuse among the aging and elderly often goes unnoticed or undiagnosed, especially in longtime drug and/or alcohol users. If you, or someone you know, have an older parent, spouse or other family member, friend or someone else you are concerned about who is an older person battling addiction, call (844) 318-0071 now to speak with one of our Palm Beach Institute specialists. They can help you find a treatment program tailored to your specific needs today. They are standing by 24-7, waiting for your call, so do it today.