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Addiction: A Growing Concern for Seniors


Many people view seniors as older and wiser. They have more life experience and have learned from their mistakes. They have watched the world change and been a part of this change. But even though they have spent more time hearing about the risks of addiction, it does not make them immune from this epidemic.

Drugs and alcohol are not just a cause for concern among teenagers and young adults. Although they may be more prone to peer pressure and experimentation, seniors also have their fair share of challenges. Addiction does not discriminate and can affect people at any stage of life.

What Are Some Risk Factors For Seniors?

There are many things that can lead seniors to misuse drugs or alcohol, and it’s not always intentional. For instance, if they take pain medication and don’t feel that it is working properly, they may increase their dose on their own instead of consulting with their doctor. They have the best of intentions but it can backfire. Taking more than prescribed can lead to dependence and then addiction.

A recent study found that “U.S. emergency departments saw a 78 percent rise in the number of visits among older adults with misuse of prescription or illicit drugs between 2006 and 2012.” These statistics are certainly alarming and show a need for greater monitoring and prevention.

Other factors that can lead to substance misuse include:

  • Boredom/Loneliness

Retirement can leave older adults with a lot of free time on their hands. Without a job to go to everyday, they’re not sure what to do with themselves and may have lost their sense of purpose. And even though they have the time to visit with friends, they’re no longer surrounded by coworkers in an office environment and can feel lonely. It takes more effort to coordinate outings whereas before they just showed up to work and they had friends there.

In an effort to quell these feelings, they may start drinking more often or more heavily. One or two drinks turn into more. They may not see a problem with this because they don’t have to go to work later and have the time to kill. Family and friends may overlook the risks as well, because they just see it as their loved one enjoying their retirement. If grandma or grandpa wants to unwind with a drink in the middle of the afternoon, what’s the big deal? But it’s important to pay attention to how much and how often they’re drinking, as well as the impact on their health and wellbeing.

  • Loss of Family/Friends

As people get older, friends and family begin slowly passing away. People they have known for years are no longer there. Their spouse of decades is suddenly gone. This can be a lot to deal with. Anger, grief, and loneliness can increase seniors’ risk of drug or alcohol use. They may self medicate as a way of coping with these feelings. They’re not sure what else to do, so they simply try to make themselves forget or ignore it.

  • Declining Health

Seniors may find that as they get older, their health declines and they have more aches and pains. Their doctor may prescribe medications for a wide range of things from arthritis or high blood pressure to insomnia or depression. Alcohol can interfere with the effectiveness of many medications and may cause dangerous side effects. Not only can they have adverse reactions, combining prescription medications and alcohol can also affect balance, memory, sleep, and mental health.

Seniors may use poor health or chronic pain as a way to justify their drug or alcohol use. After a while they may develop an addiction and be unable to stop on their own. As people age, their bodies may be slower to process alcohol. This can decrease their tolerance and lead to more rapid effects. Although they may think they’re in control and can stop whenever they want, it’s not that easy because of how the drugs and alcohol have affected their brain.

Warning Signs for Families

Families can play an important part in helping to reduce risk of addiction in seniors. It’s important to pay attention to any physical, mental, or emotional changes. If your loved one seems more disoriented or distant than usual, they experience mood swings or are more aggressive, have changes in weight, or are unsteady on their feet, these are all signs that should raise concern. Some may have logical and non-addiction related explanations, but others may stem from substance misuse.

Other signs may include:

  • Running out of prescription medications too soon
  • Visiting multiple doctors for similar complaints
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Changes in appetite or sleep
  • Drinking at all hours of the day
  • An increase in falls or accidents

If you notice these things, talk to your loved one about your concerns. You may also want to consult with their doctor. Their doctor can help you to determine if they may have a substance use disorder and how to get them into treatment.

It’s not too late for your senior to overcome addiction and make the most of their future. Through a luxury drug and alcohol rehab program, they can create healthier routines and coping mechanisms that do not involve substance use. Chapters Capistrano offers customized treatment plans to meet your loved one’s individual needs. Don’t overlook the possibility that seniors can be struggling with addiction too. Contact Chapters Capistrano at 949-371-4198 to find out more about our addiction treatment program.