Why Is Substance Abuse Rising Among Seniors?
Drug abuse is not only for the young. Statistics indicate that seniors are using and abusing drugs at an ever increasing rate. It’s a problem that not many are willing to talk about openly, but the risks to our older loved ones are great and it is an important issue to address. The biggest problems when it comes to substance abuse in the elderly are alcohol and prescription drugs. If you care for an older friend or family member, be aware of the possibility of substance abuse and know the signs so you can step in and help.
Why Are Seniors Abusing Drugs And Alcohol?
There are several reasons older Americans are abusing substances in growing numbers. One explanation is that the population of seniors has been growing as the baby boomer generation ages. That population age shift, however, is not the only issue. Socializing often drops off with retirement and aging. With loneliness may come self-medication with alcohol or readily available prescription medications. Another possible issue is mental health. Many seniors either do not recognize the signs of mental health problems in themselves, or they are embarrassed to seek treatment and turn to self-medication instead of getting professional help.
What Are The Dangers Of Senior Substance Abuse?
Substance abuse is risky and dangerous for anyone at any age, but the elderly are particularly vulnerable to the consequences. Many seniors have several prescriptions for medical reasons. Mixing these drugs with each other and with alcohol can have serious and even fatal outcomes. Between 20 percent and 30 percent of adults over the age of 75 have a problem with drinking, which means that the possibility for harmful interactions is great.
Abusing drugs and alcohol, or both, causes dangerous side effects for seniors. These include sleeping problems, delirium and cognitive issues, difficulty balancing and an increased number of falls, and depression and anxiety.
How To Recognizing The Signs Of Substance Abuse
If you think it is impossible that your older loved one is abusing drugs, take a look at the facts. According to Johns Hopkins Medical School, 12 percent to 15 percent of older adults who seek medical help for any reason are abusing prescription drugs. While some also abuse illegal drugs, prescriptions are the real issue. As with people in other age groups, seniors may underestimate the harm that these legal drugs can cause. Opioid painkillers and benzodiazepines are among the most frequently abused. Make sure you know the signs of abuse so you can recognize them in your older loved one.
The most important thing to look for is change. Any kind of change in regular habits or behaviors may indicate a drug abuse problem, or a medical problem. In either case, your loved one will need to see a doctor. With drug abuse, you may see changes in sleeping habits and appetite. Look for unexplained weight loss or gain. An increased number of falls or injuries can indicate inebriation. Changes in mood, such as irritability, agitation or confusion often accompany drug abuse. Also be suspicious if your loved one is seeing multiple doctors or filling prescriptions in several different pharmacies.
Seniors substance abuse is a growing problem and one that could have serious individual and public health implications. The consequences of abusing drugs and alcohol become more serious as we age. Take good care of your older loved ones and always have your eyes open to the signs of abuse. Intervening is important and could prevent harm and even save a life.