Elderly Substance Abuse: Spotting the Signs

substance abuse in older adults
Category: recovery

When you imagine a person with a drinking or drug problem, you probably picture someone younger – perhaps a college student or young professional with an active social life. However, addiction in older adults is a growing problem in the U.S. today. This issue is partly because the baby boom generation currently represents such a significant population segment – an estimated 76.4 million Americans. But if you have older family members who might be vulnerable to an addiction, you should also consider other factors.

Understanding Why Older Adults Might Get Addicted

Many from the baby boomer generation experienced their formative years during an era marked by cultural shifts and milestone events like the Summer of Love, Woodstock and the Vietnam War. For some, these experiences included drug experimentation, which can resurface as a coping mechanism in later years.

Additionally, the path to addiction is often unintentional. Prescription medications, particularly opioids and benzodiazepines, can be incredibly habit-forming. With age-related memory issues, older adults may inadvertently take more than their prescribed dosage and develop a physical or psychological dependence. Retirement also brings more free time and less social oversight, which can hasten the progression of an addiction when fewer people are around to notice and address behavioral changes.

Warning Signs of Drug or Alcohol Abuse in the Elderly

Identifying substance abuse in seniors can be challenging, as some symptoms mimic those of other age-related conditions. Here’s what to watch for if you’re concerned about an elderly loved one.

  • Isolation or secrecy: A marked withdrawal from social activities or acting guarded about their behavior can be a warning sign.
  • Changes in sleep or eating habits: Noticeable shifts in sleeping patterns or appetite can indicate a deeper issue.
  • Mental health fluctuations: Look for new or worsening signs of depression, anxiety or cognitive impairment.
  • Neglect of personal hygiene: A decline in grooming or personal care can be a red flag.
  • Medication mismanagement: Hoarding medications or lying about prescription use are serious indicators.
  • Emotional instability: Unexplained mood swings or emotional responses can suggest substance abuse.
  • Physical coordination: Poor coordination or balance issues may go beyond the typical aging process.
  • Eye changes: Atypically dilated pupils can sometimes point to substance use.

Embracing a Healthier Golden Age

Recognizing these signs early can be crucial in preventing the escalation of substance abuse in older adults. Early intervention helps manage addiction, while contributing significantly to preserving a loved one’s health, well-being and quality of life.

At Hemet Valley Recovery Center & Sage Retreat, we understand the unique challenges faced by 55+ adults struggling with addiction. Our compassionate, tailored approach aims to restore sobriety, joy and dignity in the golden years. If you suspect an elderly loved one is battling substance abuse, reach out for professional guidance and support. Together, we can help them enjoy their senior years with the health and happiness they deserve.