Substance Abuse Among the Elderly

Senior Substance Abuse

Substance Abuse Among the Elderly

People tend to think that recreational drug and alcohol use usually declines after young adulthood. However, this is not true for everyone, and that includes seniors. Studies show that between 2006 and 2020 substance use disorders (SUD) in seniors actually increased from 2.8 million to 5.7. How does it happen, and what should you look out for?

As people age, their mental health, physical health, and personal relationships may start to deteriorate. As a result, drugs are often prescribed by their doctors. Seniors suffering from arthritis, cancer, diabetes mellitus, and cardiovascular and neurological diseases have the additional burden of dealing with the extreme pain that often accompanies these illnesses. When the pain starts to inhibit a person’s life, healthcare providers will prescribe opiates for pain relief and management. 

This is when the family or caregiver must take on the responsibility of monitoring the loved one or client’s medication and alcohol intake. Opiates can cause or exacerbate the onset of addiction. Although addiction may be more difficult to recognize in the elderly demographic it is a growing issue and senior substance abuse is a cause of premature death for people 65 and over.

Addiction among people 65 and up is often underestimated and under-diagnosed. Signs of addiction can be easily overlooked in the elderly because very often, subtle symptoms can mimic other medical disorders, such as depression, major illnesses, diabetes, or dementia.

Some signs of elderly drug abuse to look for include:

  • Memory problems
  • Changes in sleeping habits
  • Unexplained bruises
  • Irritability, sadness, depression
  • Unexplained chronic pain
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Wanting to be alone often
  • Failing to bathe or keep clean
  • Losing touch with loved ones
  • Lack of interest in usual activities
  • Problems with Balance

Signs of Opioid Abuse:

  • Declining energy
  • Memory and emotional changes
  • Irritability
  • Sadness and depression
  • Changes in sleep and eating patterns
  • Increasing isolation
  • Less social involvement
  • Changes in hygiene
  • Changes in weight
  • Less contact with family
  • Missing appointments

If you are noticing the signs of substance abuse in an elderly loved one or a patient, there are different steps you can take to address them. The Hazelden Betty Ford has a great article you can read here with talking points for how to approach these potentially difficult conversations.

As always, Abundant Home Health Care is here to support you and your loved ones. If you are in need of home care assistance, please don’t hesitate to reach out.