Expert Corner

Substance Abuse in Older Adults : Addiction In Elderly

Although it’s not uncommon for people to develop addictions later in life, the health consequences of Substance Abuse in Older Adults over 65 can be significantly more dangerous than in younger people.

One of the speediest health problems in the United States is Substance Abuse in Older Adults (adults over the age of 60), notably of alcohol and prescription medicines.

Substance Abuse in Older Adults and up is frequently underestimated and misdiagnosed, preventing them from receiving the care they require.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, up to 17% of persons over the age of 60 abuse alcohol or prescription drugs .

Health care practitioners sometimes overlook indicators of Substance Abuse in Older Adults due to a lack of understanding, limited research data, and rushed office visits.

This is exacerbated by the fact that many elderly people suffer from medical or behavioral conditions that resemble Substance Abuse in Older Adults misuse symptoms, such as depression, diabetes, or dementia.

Substance Abuse in Older Adults can be divided into two categories, according to the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services: “hardy survivors,” or those who have been trying to abuse substances for so many years and have reached 65, and “late onset,” or those who develop addictions later in life.

There are therapeutic options that can help you get back on such a healthy path, depending on how old you are or when your addiction began.

Causes Of Addiction In The Elderly

There are a number of factors that can lead to someone developing a substance misuse problem later in life. These concerns could be health-related or life-changing occurrences that have an emotional impact.

These occurrences may trigger substance-abusing behavior, which can lead to full-fledged addiction.

Substance Abuse

The following are some of the potential triggers or causes of drug or alcohol addiction in the elderly:

  • Retirement
  • Loss of income or financial distress due to the death of a family member, spouse, pet, or close acquaintance
  • Purposelessness
  • Relocation or placement in a nursing home are both options.
  • Sleeping problems
  • Family strife
  • Deterioration of mental or physical health (depression, memory loss, major surgeries, etc.)

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The Dangers Of Substance Abuse In The Elderly

Although senior citizens are more vulnerable to the degrading effects of these substances, drug or alcohol misuse among the elderly is extremely perilous. Individuals over the age of 65 have a reduced ability to metabolize drugs or alcohol, as well as a higher sensitivity to them in the brain.

This makes it risky for seniors to consume drugs or alcohol at all, even if they aren’t hooked to them.

Benzodiazepines are among the most harmful prescription medicines for seniors, as they are used to manage anxiety, pain, and insomnia.

These are widely used and extremely addictive medications. Every year, the number of elderly people addicted to Benzos rises.

Challenges In Identifying Addiction In The Elderly

Abuse of alcohol or drugs might resemble the signs and symptoms of other physical or mental health conditions. This makes it simple for clinicians to blame a patient’s poor mental or physical condition on their age.

substance abuse

Symptoms Of Addiction In Senior Citizens

People’s mental health, physical health, and personal relationships may suffer as they get older. Although addiction may be more difficult to detect in this age group, it’s crucial to be aware of any peculiar behaviours your senior loved one exhibits.

The following are some indications of drug abuse:

  • Problems with memory
  • Sleeping patterns have changed.
  • Bruises that don’t seem to be related to anything
  • Irritability, melancholy, and depression are all symptoms of depression.
  • Chronic pain that is undiagnosed
  • Alterations in dietary habits
  • Frequently wishing to be alone
  • Failure to bathe or maintain a clean environment
  • losing touch with people care about.
  • Lack of enthusiasm for routine activities

Elderly Abuse Statistics

17%According to the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, 17% of people over 65 in the United States have abused prescription medications.
30%According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, around 30% of persons over 65 are prescribed some form of medication.
The NIAAA recommends that men and women aged 65 and up consume no more than one drink per day and no more than two drinks on any given occasion.

How are substance abuse disorders treated in older adults?

Substance Abuse disorders in older individuals have been successfully treated with a variety of behavioral therapy and medicines.

Little is known about the optimum care models, however research reveals that elderly patients benefit from lengthier treatment periods.

Other chronic diseases should be diagnosed and managed, support networks should be rebuilt, access to medical services should be improved, case management should be enhanced, and staff should be trained in evidence-based solutions for this age group.

Symptoms of SUD may be confused with those of other chronic health disorders or natural, age-related changes by providers. To create focused SUD screening approaches for older persons, more research is needed.

Those with concomitant medical and psychological disorders will also require integrated care strategies. It’s crucial to remember that people can respond effectively to treatment once they’re in it.

substance abuse


The frightening rate at which people 65 and older acquire addictions to various substances is cause for concern, and it is something that medical professionals, caregivers, and family members should not overlook. Contact a treatment provider immediately if you or someone you know is battling with addiction issues later in life and needs assistance locating a treatment program.

People May Ask

What are some risk factors for substance abuse in older adults?

Taking drugs to make you feel wonderful or “high.” This is especially common with medications used to treat long-term disorders including depression, anxiety, or chronic pain (chronic pain). Taking medications while drinking alcohol is not a good idea. not taking medications as directed, such as taking too little or skipping dosages

Why is detection of substance use disorders in older adults so difficult?

Illicit drug usage among the elderly is also on the rise. Due to medical comorbidity, cognition impairment, and functional decline, substance use and abuse in older persons are difficult to detect. Due to lower hepatic and renal clearance of the drugs, older persons are more sensitive to medication side effects.

How does substance abuse manifest in older adults?

Physical symptoms such as injuries, increasing medicine tolerance, blackouts, and cognitive impairment can all be signs of suspected substance abuse in older persons. Sleep problems, anxiety, depression, and mood swings are psychiatric symptoms that may indicate a problem with substance abuse.


The ideas and suggestions in this article are provided for general information only and should not be taken as medical advice. Before beginning any program or making any dietary changes, always consult your doctor or a dietitian first.

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