Substance Abuse in Seniors: Prevention Tips and Treatment Options

The opioid epidemic has cost the government $1 trillion since 2001, but this isn’t just an issue for the young.

More than 1 million people aged 65 or over had a substance abuse disorder in 2014, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

What’s worse is that illicit drug use among seniors is only projected to increase from 2.2 percent to 3.1 percent by 2020.

Bottom line: Substance abuse is already a major problem in the senior population, and it’s only getting worse.

As a caregiver in this landscape, it’s more important than ever to be aware of prevention tips and treatment options.

Tips for preventing senior substance abuse

Seniors fall victim to addiction for a variety of reasons, but they are all preventable. With a little extra attention to mental health and prescription medications, you may help prevent senior substance abuse.

  1. Spend time each day to ask how they’re doing – Make even more of an effort to talk about what’s going on in the senior’s life. Death of a spouse, retirement and social isolation can all play a role in substance abuse. Seniors often have trouble dealing with these difficult life changes, and they often don’t have anyone to turn to. Spend some time each day talking about how the senior in your care is feeling. Let them know you care.
  2. Keep a close watch on certain prescriptions – If the senior in your care is taking opioid painkillers, tranquilizers or prescription sleeping pills, consider keeping them under lock and key. These prescriptions are highly addictive, and it’s best to be safe. Senior citizens may innocently double or triple up because they forgot they took earlier doses.
  3. Keep an eye on the alcohol in the space – If you’re caring for a senior in their home or a facility where they’re allowed to keep alcohol, watch the levels. If you notice they’re going through alcohol quickly, talk about it.

Tips for identifying substance abuse

Substance abuse in seniors often goes undiagnosed because many of the symptoms mimic symptoms of common disorders that affect aging adults. Common symptoms of substance abuse include clumsiness, memory loss, and social withdrawal. If you notice any of these symptoms in the senior in your care, it’s likely a cause for concern. But it may or may not be a sign of substance abuse.

On the other hand, if those symptoms are coupled with any of the following, you may be dealing with substance abuse.

  • Hidden and/or empty alcohol bottles
  • Erratic behavior that seems to come and go
  • Extreme moodiness
  • Alcohol on the breath

Substance abuse treatment options for seniors

As with any substance abuse treatment, the best outcomes occur when the senior chooses treatment. Once you’ve identified the problem, intervention is one of the best courses of action. If possible, involve the senior’s family, friends and other caregivers.

After a successful intervention, the senior in your care can get help from a variety of treatment options.

Medical detox – If the senior in your care has a severe addiction, there will be physical withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can be dangerous for anyone, but they’re especially problematic for seniors who may have other health issues, including heart disease. Medications can help wean the addicted person off of the drugs with fewer physical side effects.

Residential or outpatient treatment – Anyone who is addicted, regardless of age, will benefit from professional treatment. Depending on the senior’s situation, they may benefit more from residential or outpatient treatment.

Senior addiction is a problem that all caregivers need to address in some form. Whether it’s prevention, identification or treatment, get to know the ins and outs of addiction.

Trevor McDonald

Trevor is a freelance content writer and a recovering addict & alcoholic who’s been clean and sober for over 5 years. Since his recovery began, he has enjoyed using his talent for words to help spread treatment resources, addiction awareness, and general health knowledge. In his free time, you can find him working with recovering addicts or outside enjoying about any type of fitness activity imaginable.

Written by Guest Author
The Caregiver Space accepts contributions from experts for The Caregiver's Toolbox and provides a platform for all caregivers in Caregiver Stories. Please read our author guidelines for more information and use our contact form to submit guest articles.

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