Senior Drug Abuse on the Rise

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Senior Drug Abuse on the Rise

The elderly are likely one of the last groups of people you would imagine struggle with drug and alcohol abuse. Yet, new data indicates that senior drug abuse is actually a growing epidemic. According to the Prevention Tactics report, 12 to 15% of seniors who seek medical attention show signs of prescription drug abuse. And, this number is expected to rise dramatically. A document from the Johns Hopkins Medical School estimates that the number of Americans over the age of 50 abusing prescription drugs will increase by 190% from 2001 to 2020.

In addition to prescription drug abuse, alcoholism is another major issue among seniors. According to a study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, more than a third of seniors over the age of 60 consume excessive and potentially harmful amounts of alcohol.

When discussing drug abuse and addictions, it’s important to distinguish between misuse and abuse and dependence and addiction. Drug misuse is far more prevalent among seniors than drug abuse, because the majority of seniors are being prescribed drugs to treat serious medical issues. It’s when the individual moves to increase their dosage against medical advice in order to seek greater relief that drug misuse becomes a concern.

On the other hand, drug abuse is slightly less common but just as serious an issue. Drug abuse has been defined as:

“[the] repetitive and willful habit of taking drugs for the purpose of pleasure, ecstasy and euphoria but does not include the repeated use of drugs for therapeutic purposes.”

Based on these distinctions, it’s important to note that a senior that is misusing prescription medications is likely doing so because his or her current treatment plan is no longer effective. While a more intensive drug treatment plan may be necessary for a drug abuse problem, a simple physician re-evaluation of a senior’s pain level and drug dosage may be enough to control drug misuse.

Drug and alcohol dependence and addiction are two more issues that require distinction. A number of prescription medications are physically addictive and can cause withdrawal symptoms when no longer taken. Because of this, a doctor will often recommend that a patient gradually reduce his or her doses to reduce withdrawal or dependency symptoms.

Addiction, however, can be far more difficult to overcome as it involves not only a physical dependency but a mental dependency as well.

Some of the more common drugs that seniors misuse or abuse include:

Opioids: common opioids used to treat pain include oxycodone (Percocet and Oxycontin), hydrocodone (Vicodin and Norco) and other related medicines such as codeine and morphine.

Benzodiazepines: common benzodiazepines used to treat anxiety, insomnia, bipolar and panic disorders include diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), alprazolam (Xanax) and clonazepam (Klonopin).


Stimulants: common stimulants include Ritalin and Adderall.

If you notice that your loved one appears overly sedated, disoriented, unsteady or requests early refills, then he or she may have a substance abuse problem. Additional signs of drug or alcohol abuse include serious mood swings, poor hygiene, increased isolation, doctor shopping and changes in appetite. If your elderly loved one shows any signs of a drug problem you should intervene. One option is to alert his or her physician or caregiver about your concerns.

If you are in need of a caregiver for your loved one then Home Care Assistance can help. Home Care Assistance provides older adults with quality care that enables them to live healthier, happier lives at home. To learn more visit or call 1-866-4-Live-In today!



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