SUBSTANCE ABUSE: Hidden Addictions In Older Women
Women over the age of 59 are experiencing a hidden "epidemic ... of abuse and addiction," according to a study being released today by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA). CNN reports that of the 25.6 million women in this age group, "4.4 million (17%) are addicted to nicotine, approximately 1.8 million (7%) abuse alcohol, and 2.8 million (11%) abuse prescription psychoactive drugs." While only 3.8% of older women have even tried illegal drugs, they are "at a higher risk to become addicted faster" to legal drugs, and the substance abuse care they receive from doctors is often insufficient or "inappropriate" (CNN, 6/4). For example, many physicians misdiagnose alcohol abuse as depression and prescribe sedating drugs or anti-depressants, "a potentially deadly mix with alcohol." A survey of physicians by Louis Harris & Associates, conducted as part of the CASA study, found that only 1% of primary care physicians considered a substance abuse diagnosis when presented with the classic symptoms of alcohol abuse in a mature woman. Former first lady Betty Ford, who presents the study on Capitol Hill today, said: "The substance abuse and addiction of mature women is hidden in the shame, embarrassment and denial of those who struggle with it." Former Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Joseph Califano, who heads CASA, said "there are 25.6 million women" in the age group covered by the study. "For a large percentage of them, we have written off the last quarter of their lives. ... Abuse and addiction to alcohol by women 60 and older is an inexcusable area of neglect." CASA recommends a three-tiered solution of increased prevention, detection and treatment to address the problem (CASA release, 6/3). Check out CASA's Website, located at: http://www.casacolumbia.org/This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.