Relapse prevention and maintaining abstinence in older adults with alcohol-use disorders.Drugs Aging 2002; 19(8):583-94DA
Although older adults are sometimes believed to have the lowest rates of alcohol abuse as an age cohort, the prevalence of alcohol use and abuse in this group is clearly underestimated. The under-diagnosis of alcohol abuse is due, in part, to the facts that the effects of alcohol use among older adults tend to be less clearly visible than among other age groups and that older adults are less likely to seek treatment than younger age groups. An additional challenge to diagnosis may be a lack of previous alcohol abuse by the patient, as approximately one-third of older adults with alcohol-use problems first develop their drinking problem after the age of 60 years. With a demographic shift that is expected to increase the number of older adults with alcohol problems, the awareness and understanding of this problem becomes increasingly important. Under-diagnosis of problem drinking in older adults is particularly unfortunate because the risks associated with alcohol abuse and relapse for the elderly are significant. Relapse, or the return to drinking following abstinence, may follow situations that are of particularly high risk for older adults. These include situations related to anxiety, interpersonal conflict, depression, loneliness, loss or social isolation. By helping patients to monitor these high-risk situations, to identify strategies that have been successful in promoting abstinence in the past, and to become engaged in treatment, relapse may be avoided and abstinence maintained. Treatments such as cognitive-behavioural therapy, group and family therapies and self-help groups are just as effective for older adults as they are for other age groups. In fact, group and family therapies and self-help groups may be of particular benefit to older adults because of the emphasis on social support. Medicinal adjuncts are also equally effective in the elderly, but strict compliance and careful monitoring of adverse effects are especially important in patients who take multiple medications. Because of their benign adverse effect profiles, naltrexone and acamprosate are particularly good pharmacological agents for relapse prevention in older adults.