There is no one face of addiction: It affects individuals from every demographic regardless of gender, age, race or socioeconomic status. Despite this, there is a prevailing misconception that older adults are not as vulnerable to substance abuse. Research however, shows that addiction in adults 65 years and older is a growing problem that is often under diagnosed and therefore, under treated.
Older adults are particularly at risk at risk for prescription drug abuse because they are more likely to take medications to address co-occurring and age–related conditions. These drugs which often have a high potential for addiction, include:
- Opioids – used for pain management. Examples are Oxycodone, Fentanyl, and Morphine.
- Stimulants – used to enhance brain activity. Examples are amphetamines and methylphenidate.
- Benzodiazepines – used to treat anxiety and insomnia. Examples are Diazepam, Chlordiazepoxide HCL, and Alprazolam.
Prescription drug abuse occurs when an individual misuses the medicine in a way that is not instructed by their doctor- such as taking more medication than prescribed or mixing the drug with alcohol.
The concurrent use of different medications is frequent among older adults. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) 30 percent of people age 57 to 85 take at least five prescriptions, increasing the risk of unintended drug interactions and dependency. In addition to the increased availability and accessibility of prescription drugs as persons get older, their body changes. These changes will change the way their body absorbs and metabolizes medication, making them more vulnerable to addiction than a younger adult.
Older adults are going through stressful life changes, such as the loss of a spouse, development of a chronic illness, decreased mobility, all of which can contribute to depression and substance abuse.
The abuse of prescription drugs impacts the overall health of older adults in several ways. Medications can increase the risk of falling or having an accident; they can worsen neurological, respiratory, and other age-related conditions. Overall, patients who abuse prescription drugs tend to have higher rates of morbidity.
Signs of Addiction:
Family members, caregivers, and health care providers mistake the signs of drug abuse for other physical and mental disorders associated with age. Older adults are also more likely and able to hide their substance abuse as they are often retired and not prone to getting in trouble with the law, so there are seemingly less negative consequences to their behavior.
If you are concerned about an older adult’s us of prescription drugs, here are some signs to watch out for:
- Use of medications not as prescribed by the physician.
- Seeking a prescription from multiple doctors or filling prescriptions at multiple pharmacies.
- Behavior changes, such as becoming angrier or withdrawing from everyday activities.
- Defensive about and making excuses for taking the medication.
- Hiding medication.
- Previous substance abuse problems.
What you can do:
When seeking help for an elderly patient contact:
ConnexOntario 1-800-531-2600 for access to Addiction, Mental Health and Problem Gambling Services.
This article was taken from WebMD, with some modifications.