As the baby boomer generation ages, the fear of more adults becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol increases. According to the U.S. Department of Health’s Addiction Prevention and Recovery Administration, there are currently over 8 million elderly adults addicted to alcohol or drugs. One of the main causes could be because senior citizens tend to become addicted to medication that was originally prescribed for pain relief or other purposes. Others may have become addicted in youth and, as they age, continue to abuse the drugs. It is extremely important to be able to recognize a need for treatment when it first becomes apparent if you suspect a loved one is abusing drugs or alcohol. (1)

Why it is important to look for the warning signs…

You may suspect that a loved one, like a parent or family friend, is suffering from substance abuse in their older age. What is important to note is that elderly people tend to take things into their own hands, especially parents who have raised us and like to keep a sense of privacy when things have gotten out of control in their own lives. They may think they are being a burden. They may think it is something that deserves to be kept under the radar, when in all honesty, this could be their life on the line. However, it could benefit greatly to watch for the warning signs when you believe it is getting out of control or being kept under wraps.

These could include any of the following:

  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Unexplained chronic pain
  • Unsteady gait
  • Lapses in memory
  • Sadness or depression
  • General loss of interest in favorite activities
  • Increased isolation from family and friends (2)

So why is it important that addiction is prevented in the elderly? Truth be told, addiction prevention should come into play with people of all ages but here is why it is especially important in elder adults – the elderly population is at greater risk for certain complications and adverse events due to physiological changes that occur with aging. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) says that the elderly patients are more likely to experience respiratory depression and constipation from these substance abuse issues. Elderly patients who misuse or abuse their prescribed medications are increasing their risk of dangerous side effects that could include drug-induced delirium or even dementia in some cases. (3) Senior bodies are fragile and special care need be taken when it comes to their actions and the effects it could have on them, which is why prevention is necessary and beneficial!

If you believe that a loved one may be dealing with substance abuse and prevention is out of the question as it stands, that doesn’t mean that’s the end of the line for them and that all hope should be lost. If there is reason for concern, the next step is arranging an intervention for your loved one to further prevent them from degrading into their substance abuse problem. A frank and loving conversation may open up a lot of doors for you, however in some cases, an elderly person may be adamant and deny that a problem exists at all. It may benefit you to ask your loved one to schedule a doctor’s appointment and speak with someone while you accompany him or her to it. A little trust will go a long way and get a loved one the definite help that they need. (2)