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Last Updated on January 7, 2020

Often, when someone pictures an addict or alcoholic, or even a problem drinker, they may think of someone on “skid row,” who is on the corner begging for change, or someone who’s out at the bar every night. However, this is not always the case. In fact, Image of pills for an article about substance abuse in the elderly.alcoholism and addiction can strike anywhere, at any time, and to any age group. Elderly alcohol abuse and geriatric alcoholism are very real, as is drug abuse among senior citizens. 

Read on to learn more about substance abuse in the elderly, what to look for if it’s affecting someone you love or care for, and what you can do to help.

Substance Abuse in the Elderly: Quick Facts

Doctors and researchers have lately been paying more attention to substance abuse and alcohol and the elderly. It is estimated that up to 17 percent of adults over the age of 60 have a drug (typically prescription drug) or alcohol problem. Of these elderly alcoholics, they are often divided into two groups: those who have been abusing drugs and alcohol throughout their entire lives, and those who have late-onset alcoholism or drug abuse. A recent study also noted that over 10 percent of seniors had experienced a binge-drinking episode within the last month when surveyed.

Substance Abuse in the Elderly: The Causes

Some seniors over the age of 65 have experienced bouts of alcoholism and drug abuse throughout their lifetimes, and simply continue to continue into their golden years, even though it may be unsafe. Of those who have late-onset alcoholism or drug abuse, there are several reasons it can occur, such as:

  • Death of a spouse, pet, family member, or friend
  • Loss of income
  • Retirement
  • Conflict within the family
  • Health issues 
  • Sleep issues

Substance abuse in the elderly can also be caused by cognitive or physical decline or lack of mobility. The root cause of many of these activating events is depression and/or anxiety, which can be tough to spot.

Substance Abuse in the Elderly: Alcoholism in the Elderly Symptoms 

It can be tough for caregivers, doctors, and even family members to spot alcohol or substance abuse in the elderly. What may appear as cognitive decline or memory loss could be the aftereffects of consuming alcohol. Alcohol and seniors can be a tough mix to spot. 

However, there are some things to keep an eye out for when thinking of alcohol and the elderly and effects:

  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Self-care problems, such as not bathing
  • Memory loss (particularly when intermittent)
  • Isolation
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Irritability and depression
  • Unexplained bruising or falls
  • Lack of interest
  • Unexplained pain

If you spot any of these signs in your loved one, particularly if it’s sudden, you should consider having them evaluated by a physician and enrolling them in elderly substance abuse treatment if it is needed.

Substance Abuse in the Elderly: Drug Abuse

You may wonder, “What drug is most commonly abused by older adults?” The answer for the elderly is alcohol, followed by tobacco use. When it comes to illicit drugs, cannabis remains the most abused, although, in modern times, it’s not uncommon for seniors to have a medical marijuana card, based on the state. Beyond these, the top drugs abused by seniors include opiates and benzodiazepines, both of which are regularly prescribed to older patients to combat pain and anxiety. Substance abuse includes drugs, too. When surveyed, 1.4 percent of seniors reported using opiates recreationally.

Substance Abuse in the Elderly: Treatment Options

There are treatment options available for the elderly, including alcohol rehab for seniors. It is rare to find a treatment program that is for seniors only, but there are many detox facilities and rehabilitation centers in New Jersey that take clients of any age. 

Outpatient treatment may be a good idea to treat substance abuse in the elderly, so the patient still returns home each night to their comfort zone. Some patients can be treated successfully by their own doctors or psychiatrists. Others may find treatment success via 12-step help groups or groups aimed at practicing harm reduction, which can help those with alcohol use problems help control and limit their use.

For more information on keeping seniors safe, check out our other articles on Senior Safety Tips here. To hear about mobility products, such as wheelchair ramps and stairlifts, contact Williams Lift Co. today. We want both caregivers and their patients to live their best lives.

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