Substance Abuse In Older Adults And Seniors: How To Spot The Signs?

Substance Abuse

Older adults have not demonstrated a high rate of drug use over time compared to younger adults.


Addiction in people over the age of 60 is skyrocketing, especially during the pandemic. 

According to medical experts, pandemics have played a major role in increasing addiction and substance abuse in older adults and seniors.

Substance abuse among seniors and older adults is often overlooked. This is because of medical and behavioral conditions such as depression and dementia that can completely mask the signs and symptoms of addiction.

Substance Abuse In Older Adults & Seniors

According to the NIAAA (National Institute On Alcohol & Drug Abuse), addiction affects up to 17% of older adults and senior citizens.

Many of these people are potentially using dangerous prescribed medicine to suppress their chronic psychiatric or health conditions.

Talking about addiction in older people, it can be divided into two categories:

  • Hardy Survivor: They are survivors who have been addicted their whole life and have survived till an older age.
  • Late-Onset: It refers to the older people who fall victim to addiction later in life, especially after retirement.

Late-onset addiction is usually related to the prescribed medicine that doctors give to cure or suppress certain illnesses.

For example, when older people experience stress, anxiety, or pain, the class of drugs they are given is Benzodiazepines. It is a medicine that reacts with the brain and stimulates feel-good hormones.

If not careful, it can soon become an addiction.

To learn more about on-set addiction and how it develops in older people, visit the Infinite Recovery site.

Why Are Older Adults Vulnerable To Addiction?

People often relate addiction to younger people. But that cannot be any far from the truth. Addiction is a chronic disease that can happen to anyone. 

Yes, even to older adults and senior citizens!

During our senior years, there are a number of factors that can easily contribute to the increased risk of addiction. 

You need to understand that the aging process is quite complicated. When people go through the aging dilemma, they struggle with different health-related issues that can take an emotional and physical toll.

Here are a few reasons why older people are vulnerable to addictions.

  • Loss of loved ones.
  • Retirement.
  • Loneliness.
  • Insomnia.
  • Family Conflicts.
  • Financial Concerns.

The sorrow, problem, and worries push older adults to addiction to soothe worries and fill their time.

Also Read: Is It Worth It For Drug Addicts To Access A Drug Rehab Center?

Signs Of Substance Abuse In Older Adults

While diagnosing addiction in younger adults can be a challenge, it is especially difficult when older adults are concerned.

One of the reasons why it is so difficult to recognize the addiction’s signs and symptoms is because of their medical health condition.

Although it might be difficult to find the symptoms, it is not an impossible task. Here are a few signs that you need to be aware of.

1. Losing Prescription

One of the common ways in which a senior citizen fed their drug abuse is by telling the doctor they have lost their prescription. They lie about their prescription to cover their frequency of taking prescribed medicine.

While there is a possibility that they are not lying about the lost prescription, it is always a good idea to look into the matter.

2. Excessive Sleeping

Change in sleeping habits is a clear sign of addiction. If you notice that your loved ones have changed their sleeping habits drastically even when they are not sick, that could signify chemical dependence.

3. Changes In Mood

A sudden change in mood can be a red flag. If your older adults show dramatic mood changes, sudden anger outbursts, or irritability, it can be due to addiction.

While there can be medical reasons behind the sudden change in the mood, there is no harm in finding the root cause.

4. Memory Loss & Confusion

As we have already said, it is difficult to recognize the signs of addiction in older adults because of their medical condition. Older adults suffer from memory loss. But the same thing can be said true in addiction.

If you find that memory loss and confusion are higher, this can be a sign of addiction.

5. Lying About Simple Things

Just like addiction is common to all ages. Lying is something that remains constant for any person suffering from addiction. When people try hard to cover their drug dependence, they are always thinking of different stories to tell under the influence.

If you find any older adults lying about simple things, take a step back and think about what might have made them do so.

Must Read: 5 Signs What You’ve Found the Right Dual Diagnosis Treatment Center

How To Help Older Adults Suffering From Addiction?

Clinical research shows that older adults with late-onset addiction can be treated just as well as younger adults are treated. 

That means with simple family intervention. You can make the older adults realize the addiction’s consequences and convince them to the addiction treatment program.

Although the treatment program might be the same, treatment options for the elderly may vary depending on the level of medical care needed. 

This might include:

  • Education about addiction.
  • Preventive services.
  • Support.
  • Medical detox.
  • In-patient & Out-patients treatment.

In addition, meeting with the same age cohorts enables peer bonding, offers mutual support, and establishes a sobriety network.

Finally, family members should ensure they are talking with the elders respectfully and in an empathic way.

Helping A Senior Recognize The Risks

When a person crosses their 60s, it is considered that they have entered their second childhood. Perhaps, this is why older adults are unable to recognize the risks even after undergoing addiction treatment therapies.

You can help them recognize the risk of addiction by simply talking with them. Ask them about their current medication and go through the medicine to find which medicine holds addiction properties.

If older adults take several medicines for different health conditions, it is important to write down the dosage clearly and keep it at such a place where they can easily see.

Finally, let them know they should always turn to their loved ones or doctor when they feel dependent on any medicine.

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