Drug and Alcohol Abuse in Seniors

Drug and alcohol abuse is a significant problem in America at almost any age. While many people start abusing their drug of choice in their teens, others become dependent later in life, especially during retirement. However, drug and alcohol abuse among older populations is often ignored, misdiagnosed or misunderstood, leaving many people without help or hope for treatment.

Addiction among people 65 and up is often underestimated and under-diagnosed, which can prevent them from getting the help they need. Some people in older age begin to use drugs or alcohol to curb feelings of loneliness or grief, while others have used drugs and alcohol their whole lives and now feel trapped in a lifestyle they think they should have outgrown.

Regardless of how old you are or when your addiction started, there is help and hope for you when you’re ready.

Why Do Older People Use Drugs/Alcohol?

Many people abuse substances later in life. Some of them may become addicted to painkillers they once took for a legitimate medical purpose, while some people may be using substances to cope with circumstances such as the death of a loved one. Others may abuse alcohol or drugs out of boredom.

Many different triggers can cause a person to abuse substances in older age. Financial problems, trouble sleeping, moving to a nursing home, dissatisfaction with retirement or coping with health problems are often enough to cause somebody to use drugs or alcohol to “feel better.”

The Dangers of Substance Abuse

Alcohol and drug abuse can cause physical problems no matter what age you are, but seniors are more susceptible to serious side effects.

At an older age, humans have a decreased ability to metabolize drugs or alcohol simply due to our organs aging. Older brains are also more sensitive to alcohol and drugs, which can make it more dangerous for them to abuse substances. Drugs like opioids and benzodiazepine drugs can slow a person’s breathing and when combined with other drugs can be downright dangerous or deadly.

Addiction and Seniors

Many families have a senior that uses drugs or alcohol in a way they are not meant to be used. This is especially true of opioid painkillers and anti-anxiety drugs, which can cause euphoria or a feeling of intense relaxation when taken in a way not prescribed.

Many people feel uncomfortable talking to family members about substance abuse, but without proper treatment, an older person may cause life-changing severe damage to their heart or other organs by misusing drugs or alcohol.

Many people mistake drug abuse in seniors for symptoms of aging. Confusion, incoherence, depression, “nodding out,” slurred words and slowed thought processes are all symptoms of substance abuse that need to be addressed, even in seniors.

Speaking with a doctor and the person you are concerned about can help clear up any worries about their substance use. Some people may not be taking their medications correctly due to the combination of aging and “brain fog” that some drugs cause.

If you see any symptoms of substance abuse in an aging family member, try to assess the situation objectively. Ask to look at their medications and find out how often and how much they usually take. It’s also important to take them for a visit to the doctor. A doctor can help you decide if any medications are being misused and screen your loved one for depression, dementia, and other causes for their symptoms.

Getting Help

If you or somebody you love is struggling with a substance use disorder, help is available. We can help you get started. Please give us a call at 1-877-450-1880 to learn more about your treatment options.

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