Addiction Mandy Kloppers

Drug Addiction in the Elderly- How To Recognize It and Offer Help

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Although drug and substance abuse have declined over the years as the population ages, addiction in the elderly is a rising concern. It’s a silent epidemic as over one million people aged 65 and above are struggling with addiction in the United States. The most commonly abused substances include alcohol, prescription drugs, and over-the-counter medications.


This is a growing concern because the elderly are more vulnerable to the harmful effects of drug abuse. To curb this menace, understand what leads to addiction in this age group and how to get help. The good thing is that you can find addiction treatment specially designed for the elderly to help them get back on track. Why are the elderly susceptible to addiction?

Mental Health Concerns

Undealt with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and grief can lead to addiction in the elderly. They may self-medicate to cope with the emotions. In some cases, the elderly may be prescribed medications for mental health issues, which are easy to abuse. For instance, benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed to treat anxiety but are also highly addictive.

Addiction doesn’t happen overnight, but over time, the body becomes tolerant to the substance, leading to dependence. The brain also changes, making it difficult to quit without professional help. The person feels like they need the drug to function normally; this is where addiction takes root.

Isolation and Loneliness

The elderly are more likely to live alone, leading to isolation and loneliness. They may turn to drugs or alcohol to cope. Substance abuse leads to more isolation as the person becomes engrossed in the addiction and cuts ties with family and friends. They may also stop participating in activities they once enjoyed. The cycle of addiction is perpetuated by isolation as it leads to more drug abuse and worsens mental health issues.

Changes in the Body

The aging process brings about changes in the body, making the elderly more vulnerable to addiction. Older people have decreased water content and lean muscle mass. Alcohol metabolization is slower, leading to a higher blood alcohol concentration. The risk of overdose increases as the liver can’t process alcohol as efficiently.

Changes in metabolism make it challenging to clear drugs from the system, leading to toxicity. The elderly are more likely to have chronic health conditions exacerbated by substance abuse than the younger population. Alcohol abuse can worsen diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.

Access to Medications

The fact about substance use in elderly is that they often have more medication access, due to their frequent visits to the doctor’s office and getting multiple prescriptions. That results in increased risk of diversion and abuse as they may take more than the recommended dosage or sell the drugs.

Seniors may also have prescriptions for controlled substances such as opioids for pain relief. These drugs are highly addictive, and it’s easy to develop dependence.

Lack of Knowledge

Seniors may lack knowledge about substance abuse and its effects. Drug and alcohol education is not as readily available in this age group. The lack of knowledge can lead to misunderstanding and judgment from family and friends. It can also make it difficult to seek help as the person is embarrassed or ashamed to admit they have a problem.

Chronic Pain

The elderly are also more likely to suffer from chronic pain due to age-related conditions such as arthritis. This pain is debilitating, and the person may turn to drugs for relief. Opioids are often prescribed for pain relief but have a high risk of addiction. The elderly may also self-medicate with alcohol or over-the-counter medications. Continued use of the substance can lead to tolerance and dependence.

Financial Concerns

Seniors are more likely to have financial problems, leading to addiction. They may have fixed incomes that don’t cover the cost of living. It leads to stress and anxiety, which the person may try to cope with by using drugs or alcohol. The financial burden makes it difficult to afford treatment, leading to continued substance abuse.

What Should You Do When Your Elderly Loved One Is Abusing Drugs and Alcohol

Discovering that your elderly loved one is abusing drugs or alcohol is stressful. You’ll be shocked, angry, and feel betrayed. Remember that addiction is a disease, and your loved one is not to blame. Here are steps you can take:

Talk to Your Loved One


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You may feel like you’re betraying their trust or crossing a line. However, have an open and honest conversation. Express your concerns and explain how their substance abuse is affecting you. This conversation is the first step in getting them the help they need.

Get Help From a Professional

If you’re struggling to have a conversation with your loved one or are worried about their safety, it’s time to get professional help, like an opioid treatment center in Worcester. Speak to the doctor or a counselor. They’ll help you assess the situation and create a plan to get the help they need.

Offer Support

Offer support as they go through treatment as they may feel scared and alone. It’s more difficult for the elderly to go through this process. Reassure them that you’re there to offer help when needed. Go to counseling sessions with them or help them with chores around the house.

Seek Support for Yourself

Caring for someone with an addiction is emotionally and mentally draining. Join a support group or talk to a counselor to help you deal with your feelings. Create boundaries not to feel like you’re responsible for their sobriety.

There’s Help

Addiction is a severe concern in the elderly population. The unique challenges, such as chronic pain, financial problems, and lack of knowledge, make the situation more difficult to deal with. Finding help as soon as you suspect a problem is crucial. With treatment and support, they can recover and live a healthy life.




Drug Addiction in The Elderly- How To Recognize It and Offer Help (Image Credit Pexels)

Mandy Kloppers
Author: Mandy Kloppers

Mandy is a qualified therapist who treats depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, trauma, and many other types of mental health issues. She provides online therapy around the world for those needing support and also provides relationship counselling.