Some people stereotype drug addicted people as poor, young, minority folks who smoke crack cocaine. But the reality is that older women on alcohol, cigarettes, and prescription drugs make up a silent group at risk for addiction. A study by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University focuses on substance abuse in women over 59 and their susceptibility to addiction. Without realizing it, women may become addicted on seemingly small doses because of a slowing metabolism that occurs as women age.
The study found that 1.8 million women over 59 are addicted to alcohol, 2.8 addicted to psychoactive drugs like Valium, and 4.4 million women smoke cigarettes. The problem is compounded by the fact that only 1 percent of physicians recognize the early signs of substance abuse in women in this age group. One-fifth of women who ask for referrals for substance abuse treatment state that they have been denied help because their managed care or insurance company would not cover the costs. What may surprise you is that women with incomes over $40,000 are almost three times likelier to abuse alcohol than those who make less than $40,000 per year.
The costs to society of not treating these women is staggering. Substance abuse will cost at least $10.1 billion is inpatient hospital bills, $12.2 billion in nursing home bills, and $7.7 billion for physician and home healthcare visits. All told that means that we spend $30 billion for not treating these women! On a personal level, a woman suffering from addiction watches as her health deteriorates and her independence wanes.
In this study 80 percent of cases of addiction were missed and depression diagnosed instead of the addiction. In many cases that error led to the prescription of anti-depressants that could compound the addiction. Overall the study showed that only 2 percent of addicted women over the age of 59 got help for substance abuse. Most often money was spent to treat the complication of addiction like fractures, hepatitis, cancer of the pancreas, stroke and heart disease. This study underscores our knowledge that treating the primary problem is smarter and in the long run cheaper than treating the complication.