The Health Effects Of Drug Abuse For Seniors Can Be Even More Perilous Than In Younger Years.

Is it possible to have a preconceived notion of certain stereotypical groups of people? For example, what comes to mind when you hear the words “drug addict”? Perhaps a young adult struggling to make it through daily life without a fix, potentially turning to a life of crime to fund their habit? If so, it may be surprising to learn that older adults are breaking the mold, unsuspectingly struggling with significant elderly addiction difficulties. Drug abuse among the elderly is a rapidly growing health problem in the United States.

Misuse of drugs by seniors is especially dangerous being that they are more susceptible to the deteriorating effects. Patients over the age of 65 have an increased brain sensitivity and a decreased ability to metabolize drugs. This combination makes it risky for seniors to use drugs at all, even if the person is not addicted. A delay or prevention of getting the help they need often occurs because elderly addiction is often underestimated and underdiagnosed.

Types of Drugs That Lead to Addictions

The most common addiction is to opioids. Usually prescribed for short-term pain relief, long-term use of the drugs can result in addiction. Despite this, the American Geriatric Society recently updated its guidelines to recommend the use of opioids in seniors. Their reasoning was that this age group is not likely to become addicted. Dr. Mel Pohl, of the Las Vegas Recovery Center, however, begs to differ. “There’s no factual, scientific basis for that. The drug takes over in the brain. It doesn’t matter how old the brain is,” he explains. The chances of elderly addiction are alarming with many patients receiving an opioid prescription upon discharge from the hospital.  Opioids themselves may well leave mature adults tired, groggy, depressed and a falls risk. Also, there may be more severe results of stopping the medication once addicted: irritability, anxiety, agitation, insomnia, sweats, muscle aches, abdominal cramping, nausea, and vomiting.

Another highly addictive class of drugs for seniors is benzodiazepines, used to treat anxiety, pain or insomnia. The number of seniors addicted to benzodiazepines continues to rise every year. The prevalence of the use of benzodiazepines as routine anti-anxiety medications exposes people from every demographic and lifestyle. Addiction can happen even while under a physician’s care and at prescribed doses. The Beers list of drugs is a guide to potentially inappropriate medications and classes to avoid in older adults with examples of medications to avoid regardless of diseases or conditions. Noted on the Beers list for benzodiazepines: older adults are more sensitive to their effects with an increased risk of falls, fractures, cognitive impairment, and delirium.

Causes Of Elderly Addiction

Several factors can contribute to substance abuse by older persons. Often there are life changing events or health related issues that can take an emotional toll and provoke drug-abusing behavior that can result in a full-scale addiction.

Potential triggers for drug abuse in seniors:

  • Retirement
  • Death of a family member, spouse, close friend or even a pet
  • Financial hardship or loss of income
  • Relocation or placement in a facility
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Family crisis or conflict
  • Physical or mental health decline (surgery, memory loss, depression, etc.)

So what is the solution? First, is trying to prevent the problem before it starts. Become knowledgeable about disease conditions. Inquire about alternative and less dangerous treatment options for your older loved ones with a goal to avoid the type of medications that can lead to elderly addiction. However, understand that even over the counter pain meds can be hazardous for aging adults, making it difficult for doctors to know the best way to regulate pain in seniors – managing pitfalls with the need to remove suffering in older patients.

Most important of all is being aware of the potential of elderly addiction. As people age, both their physical and mental health may start to deteriorate along with personal relationships. Also, drug abuse may mimic symptoms of other medical health disorders, such as depression, dementia or diabetes. Consequently, physicians may attribute these declining mental or physical health symptoms in their older patients simply to “old age.”

Symptoms of Addiction In Seniors

Addiction can be difficult to recognize. Therefore, be alert to any unusual signs that an elderly loved one displays. Once an addiction is identified, it is critical to seek out a treatment center that has particular experience working with seniors facing addiction.

Some signs of  drug abuse in the elderly to look for include:

  • Changes in sleeping habits
  • Unexplained bruises
  • Irritability, sadness, depression
  • Unexplained chronic pain
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Wanting to be alone often
  • Failing to bathe or keep clean
  • Losing touch with loved ones
  • Lack of interest in usual activities
  • Memory problems
Comprised of a Pharmacist, Registered Nurse, and Certified Case Manager, the executive team at Hibernian Home Care can help seniors avoid or treat elderly addiction with proper geriatric medication management. Another service offered is case management, which provides the elderly with supervised access to medical, psychiatric and social resources to ensure good health. Other services include transportation and accompaniment to medical procedures and doctor’s appointments, pick up medications at the pharmacy and offer medication reminders. Contact Us anytime at 732-481-1148 for more information and to discover more ways we can assist your senior loved one and keep them safe and well, right in their own home.