Identifying Signs and Symptoms of Elderly Substance Abuse


Substance abuse is a widespread problem in the United States, affecting teenagers and young adults more than most of the other age categories. However, there are many elderly people from the baby-boom generation who have had an increased exposure to illegal drugs and alcohol owing to different reasons. According to some experts, the increased acceptance of substance abuse among the senior citizens is primarily driven by the tendency of such substances to “cure” a bad mood or sleep deprivation.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in 2014, people aged 65 years or older represented 14.5 percent of the U.S. population, which is approximately one in every seven Americans. With such a vast population of senior citizens, it is estimated that more and more seniors will now fall prey to addictive drug use in the near future.

The Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services has classified substance abuse among senior citizens into two broad categories, namely the “hardy survivor,” comprising those who have been abusing substances for many years and have reached the age of 65, and the “late onset” group, which includes those who have developed addiction later in their life.

What triggers substance abuse among elderly?

Substance abuse has no set boundaries. It can strike anyone at any age, irrespective of caste, creed, culture or ethnicity. The condition has been known to affect the elderly population in the U.S. for a long time now. In fact, age is not a barrier when it comes to drinking or taking drugs as a way of dealing with pain, grief or other mental health conditions. However, in case of the elderly, there are certain unavoidable situations that trigger addictive behavior in them.

Some of the most common triggers are:

  • Feeling of loneliness or the pain of losing a loved one
  • Multiple health concerns
  • Lack of employment
  • Chronic pain or illness
  • Fear of getting old
  • Family issues or financial hardship
  • Sleep disorders

Symptoms and risks associated with elderly substance abuse

The problem of substance abuse among the senior citizens is often hidden, misdiagnosed or overlooked, primarily due to the overlapping of its symptoms with those of other medical and behavioral problems. Sadly, physicians often overlook the problem of substance abuse in seniors, probably due to lack of understanding or due to the misconception that the elderly cannot achieve sobriety.

But addiction at any stage of life can lead to harmful consequences if not treated at the right time. The first step toward the treatment is to identify the crippling symptoms as early as possible. Listed below are some of the common symptoms that indicate substance abuse problem among the elderly:

  • Secretive drinking or drinking before, with or after meals
  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • Ignoring the warning labels on illicit and prescription drugs
  • Frequent use of tranquilizers
  • Slurred speech and altered personal appearance
  • Chronic and unsupported health complaints
  • Depression and memory loss

The problem of substance abuse can cause multiple issues among the elderly. Some of the most common issues encountered by the baby boomers hooked on to substances are:

  • Cognitive issues
  • Delirium and depression
  • Sleep deprivation or a higher risk for developing other medical disorders
  • Increased risk of serious injury

Helping senior to lead an addiction-free life

The growing rate of this problem among the elderly is certainly a matter of concern.

Taking help from addiction support groups can be helpful in building an addiction-free life for the senior citizens. One can also consult a therapist who can guide the person to one of the good addiction treatment centers where the recovery is faster.


Source by Barbara Odozi

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