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  • Rudy Palma

Isolated Older Adults at Higher Risk of Addiction - Resources Available

Updated: Feb 10, 2022

Since time immemorial we have known indulging in our excesses is something that must be taken in moderation – a catch-22 if there ever was one.

We have also known for decades the damages that smoking and excessive drinking can cause.

In fact, we spend so much time and energy trying to safeguard children and young people against these behaviors that one would think a susceptibility to addiction is primarily a trait of the young.

This, of course, is far from true.

Research shows that older adults and seniors who contend with isolation, including those still experiencing it due to Covid-19, are at a heightened risk to develop addictions and addictive behaviors. If they previously overcame an addiction, their risk for rekindling it proves that much higher.

In an era where delivery services mean gaining access to goodies is easier than ever before and we can gamble away all the equity we’ve put into our homes without even taking one step outside the door, this is a particularly serious issue that warrants our attention.

This is a particular concern for older people who have limited networks of friends or still feel the need to decline opportunities to socialize until the pandemic abates. Add in the stigma that is associated with addiction, as well as a fear of judgment, and the problem has the potential to compound in silence, with those who might intervene unable to see the damage.

Those who love and care for older adults and seniors should understand this, as it is part and parcel of quality-of-life concerns that grow that much more precious in advancing years. Isolation has been proven to be detrimental to mental and physical health in a myriad of ways across the board, particularly for older people.

Broadly speaking, we need company.

If we can spot the signs of addiction that often accompany reclusiveness, we can be more empowered to reach out and break through the loneliness that make addictions that much more insidious, like darkness doubling down on itself.

There are free resources available to those of any age who are struggling with these problems. There are people who care and want to help. You don’t have to go it alone. Sometimes it is a sign of strength, in fact, to have the wisdom and self-insight to reach out and ask for that extra bit of assistance.

Case in point: How do you think Elton John was able to make so many hit songs? He doesn’t write any of them alone – a songwriting partner (usually his musical partner, Bernie Taupin) always sends him the lyrics first. Sometimes a team effort is the ticket to success.

And if you know or suspect an older person in your life is shut-in due to the pandemic or any other reason, don’t put off that phone call or e-mail. Make the time. Risk an awkward silence or fumbled greeting with an acquaintance you only know in passing, or a neighbor you’ve waved to but haven’t seen much of lately. You have nothing to lose, and such a minimal effort can mean so much to someone’s well-being when they’re simply in need of human contact. Nothing – including any addictive substance or behavior – will ever be an adequate substitute for that.

If you’re struggling with an addiction, call the SAMHS National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP to be connected to resources, including counseling. For help with a gambling addiction, call or text the National Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-522-4700.


Nicholson, N. R. (2012). A Review of Social Isolation: An Important but Underassessed

Condition in Older Adults. The Journal of Primary Prevention, 33(2–3), 137–152.

Parekh, R., & Morano, C. (2009). Senior Gambling: Risk or Reward? Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 52(7), 686–694.

Razai, M. S., Oakeshott, P., Kankam, H., Galea, S., & Stokes-Lampard, H. (2020). Mitigating the psychological effects of social isolation during the covid-19 pandemic. BMJ, m1904.

Shankar, A., McMunn, A., Banks, J., & Steptoe, A. (2011). Loneliness, social isolation, and behavioral and biological health indicators in older adults. Health Psychology, 30(4), 377–385.

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