Print Posted by Ken Benson on 09/07/2016

Drug Prevention Guide - For The Elderly

Drug Prevention Guide - For The Elderly

Recently drug addiction has become more prevalent in elderly individuals.  Often, the symptoms are masked by problems associated with aging.  Elderly individuals often have multiple care providers, who may inadvertently prescribe multiple additive substances. 

While much attention has been places on prevention for young adults and teenagers.  Relatively little information is available for elderly individuals and their loved ones.

The information provided here is based on extensive research in the field of addiction.

Identifying Substance Abuse in The Elderly

It is more difficult to recognize early signs of substance misuse in older people than in younger people, certain behaviors can act as “warning flags” .

  • Memory trouble after having a drink or taking a medication
  • Loss of coordination ( walking unsteadily, frequent falls)
  • Changes in sleeping habits
  • Unexplained bruises
  • Being unsure of yourself
  • Irritability, sadness, depression
  • Unexplained chronic pain
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Wanting to stay alone much of the time
  • Failing to bathe or keep clean
  • Having trouble concentrating
  • Difficulty staying in touch with family or friends
  • Lack of interest in usual activities

Read More: Office Of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services

If you spot one of these symptoms in a loved one, it's important to discuss the issue with their care provider. 


Lack of Training For Care Providers

In a perfect world your loved ones care provider would be aware of substance abuse issues, but many are not.  After you have identified the problem it is important to realize that their may be a significant lack of knowledge among care providers for the elderly.  Many long held opinions regarding elderly care may work against you.

According to the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, substance abuse in the elderly has become an "invisible epidemic".  They cite insufficient knowledge, limited research data, and hurried office visits as reasons this epidemic is so difficult for many to see.

In addition they have identified several barriers which prevent a more focused approach.

  • Ageism
  • Lack of awareness
  • Clinician behavior
  • Comorbidity

Read More: Substance Abuse Among Older Adults


How Bad Is The Problem?

As prescription drug abuse continues to be a growing problem the same trends are scene among individuals who are over age 55.  While alcohol continues to be the main drug of abuse others are rapidly increasing. This may be the result of the large number of "baby boomers" who used recreational drugs in the past and are now having problems later in life.

SAMHSA Treatment Admissions For Seniors
Image via SAMHSA.gov



Increased Danger For Elderly Substance Abusers

Potential risks of drug or alcohol abuse and/or addiction for seniors:

  • Increased sensitivity or decreased tolerance (less substance produces stronger effect)
  • Higher blood concentrations due to slow metabolism
  • Risk of accidents, falls or injuries
  • Excessive daytime drowsiness
  • Disorientation or delirium
  • Significant memory problems
  • Slowed respiration
  • Worsening liver disease, cardiovascular disease, or diabetes
  • Sleep disruptions or disorders
  • Ulcers and gastrointestinal problems
  • Adverse drug interactions resulting in seizure, coma or death

Additional Information

More About Ken Benson

Ken is passionate about substance abuse education.  With over 10 years experience in the addiction treatment field, Ken brings his experience to the team at Rehabs America.  Ken's articles cover the entire spectrum of substance abuse with careful attention to research and providing the cutting edge in addiction treatment information.

After watching his sister battle addiction Ken became convinced that treating addiction on a national scale begins with education.  Ken has delivered drug education lectures to schools and community groups across the country. Today he is working towards a masters degree in social work.

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