Elderly Drug Abuse And Addiction: Cause, Symptoms And Treatment

Health & Medical Blog

When most people think of drug addictions, their elderly parents or senior loved ones aren't typically the first people that come to mind. However, people who are aged 65 and older account for about 30 percent of prescription medications in the United States. Many of the health problems seniors are diagnosed with, such as chronic illness, depression and insomnia are treated with prescription medications that have a high risk for addiction, including opioids and benzodiazepines. It is estimated that about 17 percent of adults who are aged 60 and over may be abusing prescription drugs, so it is important to know the signs of drug abuse.

Factors Contributing to Elderly Drug Abuse and Addiction

Elderly adults often take more than one prescription medication each day, which increases the risk of taking the wrong medications, taking more than what is prescribed and drug interactions. In addition to common mistakes with their medications, aging often slows the liver's ability to filter out the medications, which puts the elderly at a higher risk of becoming addicted at lower doses of some medications than a younger adult. Late onset of drug abuse in the elderly is typically brought on by medical problems and major life changes, including:

  • Death of a loved one/Grief
  • Financial difficulties
  • Retirement
  • Physical limitations
  • Loneliness
  • Insomnia
  • Pain
  • Cognitive difficulties

Symptoms of Elderly Drug Abuse

Some of the warning signs of elderly drug abuse and addiction are often viewed as part of their normal aging process, which sometimes result in a missed diagnosis of their addiction, so it is important to pay close attention to the warning signs and symptoms. If you suspect your elderly parent or other elderly loved one may have an addiction to prescription medications, seek help through a local drug treatment center as soon as possible. Some of the warning signs of elderly drug abuse may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Sleep problems
  • Memory loss
  • Mood swings
  • Unsteady gait, chronic falls and accidents
  • Loss of interest in social activities and/or hobbies
  • Neglect of appearance and personal hygiene
  • Weight loss
  • Defensive behavior
  • Increased stress
  • Slurring words
  • Afraid to go anywhere without their medications
  • Make excuses about why they need medicine
  • Store extra pills in their pocket or purse
  • Sneak or hide medications
  • More than one prescription for the same medication from 2 or more doctors
  • Fill prescriptions for the same medications at more than one pharmacy

Treatment for Elderly Drug Abuse and Addictions

Fortunately, there are drug and alcohol treatment centers that specialize in providing treatment for elderly adults. The treatment for an addiction to prescription medications depends on the severity of the addiction, what drugs are being abused and the seriousness of the withdrawal symptoms. When treating the elderly for a drug addiction, the treatment center will also take into consideration any medical problems and limitations, such mobility. Senior drug addiction treatment is typically comprised of:

  • Screening and assessment, which helps to determine the severity of the elderly person's addiction as well as to identify any medical and/or mental health problems.
  • Detoxification-withdrawal can be uncomfortable as well as dangerous in some situations, especially with the elderly. It is important for the elderly to consider detoxing under medical supervision, which will help to provide relief of the withdrawal symptoms and to be available in case emergency care is needed.
  • Individual and group therapy and counseling are used to educate the person about the dangers of prescription medications, provide stress and pain management techniques and how to cope without overuse of their medications.
  • Aftercare services are extremely important for recovery. Aftercare provides seniors with individual therapy on an outpatient basis. These services are also excellent resources for helping seniors transition back into living without abusing their medications.

Living with an addiction is a struggle for anyone. Seniors who are addicted to drugs are often hesitant to seek help when they need it, because they do not want to be thought of as a burden or they may be concerned about what others think of them. If your elderly parent or loved one lives alone, it is critical that you visit as often as possible and be aware of how they are using their medications. If you suspect drug abuse, seek help immediately with a drug and alcohol treatment center—such as Triumph Treatment Services—that provides services for the elderly.


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