Addiction and Aging: What Seniors Should Know

Addiction and Aging: What Seniors Should Know

  • April 20, 2017

Addiction is on the rise. And that includes among a very surprising group of people: seniors. Let’s explore the most common addictions, as well as the signs of addiction in older adults. 

Two Groups of Seniors Battling Addiction

There are two types of seniors who are abusing drugs and alcohol, according to the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. (This is the government agency devoted to the prevention, treatment, and recovery.)
They classify older adults who are addicted as:
  • Hardy Survivors: Seniors who have used drugs and alcohol for decades and have now reached the age of 65 or older.
  • Late Onset Abusers: This group of older adults formed an addiction later in life, usually as a result of a traumatic event or injury.

Causes of Late Onset Addiction

For older adults addicted to drugs or alcohol, a traumatic event or life-changing event often triggers the abuse. These triggers may include: 
  • Death of a loved one
  • A move they didn’t want to make
  • Retirement
  • Concerns about finances
  • An injury leading to prescription drug use

Prescription Drug Abuse or Misuse: Understanding the Difference

Some seniors who begin using strong prescription painkillers become addicted, which then leads to medication misuse. 

What’s the difference between drug abuse and misuse? 

It’s important to understand that both are dangerous addictions. Drug abuse is defined as taking a drug purely for recreational purposes. By contrast, drug misuse, which is far more prevalent, occurs when a senior takes a prescription medication inappropriately. It might be taking the drug too frequently or in doses higher than prescribed. 

Nearly one million seniors today misuse prescription drugs. Researchers say that number could rise to 2.7 million seniors misusing or abusing drugs by 2020. 

Identifying Addiction in Seniors

Whatever the cause and whatever the substance, drug addiction in seniors is hard to diagnose. Many of the symptoms of drug addiction mimic the normal signs of aging or even symptoms of Alzheimer’s or dementia. These may include: 
  • Memory loss
  • Changes in sleeping habits
  • Increased or decreased appetite
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Lack of personal hygiene 
Rather than looking at these symptoms alone, also check your loved one’s prescription bottles. Do they have the right number of pills left based on the date on the bottle? Are they refilling prescriptions with the right frequency? 

Identifying Alcoholism in Seniors

Alcohol abuse may have many of the same signs as drug use in seniors. Because seniors metabolize alcohol slower, they often get drunk faster and stay intoxicated longer. Alcohol may damage the liver, brain, and other organs more easily. 

Additionally, the danger of an interaction between alcohol and prescription drugs increases as we age, because seniors tend to take more medications than younger people. 

What To Do If You Think Your Loved One Has a Problem

If you suspect your loved one has a drinking or drug problem, approach them first. They might get defensive or deny it. Or they may have been waiting for someone to notice, too scared to reach out for help on their own. 

If your loved one argues, speak to their primary care physician. A doctor can help your loved one safely detox from strong pain medications or they may recommend a course of action for alcoholism, such as counseling or a twelve-step program. If you suspect drug or alcohol abuse, it’s important to take action quickly.

Reducing Stress for Seniors

The staff at Five Star Senior Living communities can help reduce the stressors in your senior loved one’s daily life. We help older adults feel active and engaged with life again through a wide variety of programs and activities. Stop by for a visit today! 

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51 Warning Signs

51 Warning Signs

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