Seniors Abusing Drugs and Alcohol

There is a difference between drug abuse and drug misuse. When it comes to the older adults, most seniors probably misuse prescription drugs, use them in the wrong dosage by mistake or mix them up with other medications they are taking. However, a growing number of elderly Americans have become addicted to some pharmaceuticals and now may be abusing their medications. Either way, “abuse” or “misuse” is a concern for the growing older population and those who care about them.

What can you do? If you believe an elderly person may have a drug problem you should consider talking to them about their drug use. If talking to the individual is not an option, consider alerting a physician the individual sees. Notifying family members may be a plan for neighbors of elderly individuals.

Prescription drug abuse is difficult to detect in the elderly. Drug abuse is often masked by increasing signs of forgetfulness, confusion, nodding off, accidents and irritability, which may be dismissed as symptoms of old age. Very often, they are not.

A Johns Hopkins Medical School study indicates:

…that the number of Americans over age 50 abusing prescription drugs is projected to rise to 2.7 million in 2020 – a 190% increase from the 2001 figure of 910,00.

Why does drug abuse among the elderly matter? With age, the liver becomes less efficient at filtering out medications from the body and for this reason an older person may become addicted to medications at lower doses than a younger person would. The side effects of substance abuse include: inability to remember, falls that can lead to serious injury and an early death.

According to a Prevention Tactics report, “prescription drug abuse is present in 12 to 15% of elderly individuals who seek medical attention.

As people age, they often take more medicines. Adults 65 years or older are twice as likely as others to come to emergency departments for adverse drug events and nearly seven times more likely to be hospitalized after an emergency visit than younger Americans.


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