Substance Abuse in Older Adults - Topic Overview
Misuse of medicine
Older adults often have to take many medicines. This can easily
lead to misuse or abuse of medicines. You misuse or abuse medicine when:
- You take too much medicine or take medicine
when you don't need to.
- You use older medicines or another person's
- You take medicine to feel good or "high." This happens
most often with medicines used to treat conditions such as depression, anxiety,
or pain you have had for a long time (chronic pain).
- You take
medicines while drinking alcohol.
- You don't get a prescription
- You don't take medicine as your doctor directs, such as
not taking enough medicine or skipping doses.
Warning signs of substance abuse
Below are some of the warning signs of alcohol or drug abuse in
older adults. Signs can include changes in your behavior as well as changes in
your mental abilities.
If you notice any of these signs in yourself or someone you care
about, talk to your doctor. Tell your doctor about the drinking or medicine
use, including over-the-counter medicines, herbs, and dietary supplements. Tell
your doctor about any alcohol or drug use in the past.
Changes in behavior
You may have a drug or alcohol problem if:
- You fall a lot.
- You are not able to
make it to the bathroom in time (incontinence).
- You are
having more headaches and dizziness than usual.
- You are not keeping
- You have changed what and how you eat. You may not
eat as much, for example.
- You begin to ignore and lose touch with
your family and friends.
- You begin to think about
- You begin to have legal or money problems.
Changes in mental abilities
Here are some mental signs of drug or alcohol abuse:
- You begin to feel anxious a lot of the
- Your memory becomes worse.
- It's hard for you to
focus or make decisions.
- You lose interest in your usual
- You have mood swings or feel sad or depressed.
If you have any of these signs, it may not mean you have a drug or
alcohol problem. Many of the signs listed here also can be signs of health
problems many older adults have. Changes in behavior also could be signs of
Drinking or abusing medicine or drugs often starts after a big
change in your life. Retiring, the death of a spouse or good friend, leaving
your home, and being diagnosed with a disease all can trigger substance abuse.
If a life-changing event happens to you or a loved one, watch for signs of drug
or alcohol abuse.