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Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment for Substance Abuse in the Elderly


Many people associate addiction as a problem primarily found in younger people. With drug and alcohol PSAs all over schools and youth television programs, it would appear that the main victims of addiction are children and teens. However, this is not the case. Addiction can affect anyone, even people we would least expect, including the elderly.

In reality, senior citizens are just as likely to develop an addiction as easily as anyone else. In recent years, studies have found that Baby Boomers are turning to drugs and alcohol more than previous generations of elderly populations due to a shift in cultural attitudes towards them.

As a result, geriatric substance abuse is on the rise – doubling in amount since the early 2000’s – in adults 65 and older with no signs of stopping.

This is a concerning problem for many caregivers, so what can be done? Read on for more information about the causes, symptoms, and treatments for substance abuse among older populations.

What Causes Substance Abuse in the Elderly?

Addictions such as substance abuse or alcoholism in the elderly may have been hidden since their youth or recently developed. Unique triggers related to age can also be the source of an onset of substance abuse or alcoholism in the elderly.

One problem is that plenty of elderly people have regular access to a plethora of pills and other medications directly prescribed to themselves or friends. While a nursing home is supposed to be a facility dedicated to providing the safest care to the elderly, it is also where many senior citizens begin their path to addiction, particularly alcohol.

Statistics provided by the NCADD also indicate that widowers above the age of 75 currently make up the majority of people suffering from alcoholism in the United States alone, turning to alcohol as a way of medicating their grief.

How Can I Spot Substance Abuse Among Older Adults?

There are several key signs to look out for if you are concerned a loved one is abusing drugs or alcohol. Regarding geriatric substance abuse, here are the signs experts have identified as the most common indicators of substance abuse in seniors:

  • No longer enjoying the hobbies or interests they previously loved
  • Hostile and aggressive behaviors
  • Onset of depression or anxiety
  • Forgetfulness, memory loss, and confusion
  • Ritualistic, secretive, or solitary drinking habits
  • Drastic change in personal appearance and hygiene
  • Chronic health complaints not linked to obvious health problems

What Are Some Unique Concerns About Substance Abuse in Older Adults?

When it comes to substance abuse in the elderly and its unique issues and concerns, there are several different disturbing factors to be aware of. The symptoms and signs previously noted are exceptionally difficult to distinguish from other common geriatric ailments such as dementia and complications related to diabetes.

It can also be confused as signs of a developed mental illness, which can be exclusive or directly related to an addiction, even if not immediately connected.

Unlike living in a home with a teenager or spouse where it may be easier to note sudden changes of habits, it may be harder to track this in elderly people living independently. Even in nursing homes, the insidious nature of elderly substance abuse can be consistently overlooked, which could prove to be fatal.

Some medical professionals are unable to find immediate signs of addiction and pass off what is really substance abuse alcoholism in the elderly as symptoms of just getting older, not giving much more attention to the issue.

Some seniors are embarrassed by their problems or refuse to admit that they have an issue. Because of the stigma of addiction, others believe it is a private matter and should not be discussed.

Because of their advanced age, many also do not see the urgency in treating the problem and unintentionally allow it to get progressively worse. Instead, many people focus on identifying and treating younger patients with addictions because they are presumed to have more life to live and are valued more than senior patients.

What Can Be Done About Elderly Addiction?

If you are concerned about a loved one that may be suffering from addiction or elderly alcoholism, talk to them about their habits. If they become aggressive or violent or if they are suffering from an overdose or other complications, call emergency services immediately for help.

While the emergency room can provide stabilization or even life-saving services, the path to addressing the problem and walking towards recovery requires patience and understanding. It can be an intimidating and painful road.

But do not lose faith. If you or a loved one is suffering from substance abuse and over the age of 65, there is hope for a better tomorrow. Many facilities for psychiatric problems – including addiction – exist to put a recovery plan in place with inpatient and outpatient rehab programs designed just for addiction. Researching the best facilities with the best results can be intimidating, but not impossible.

Located in Las Vegas, Nevada, Desert Parkway Behavioral Healthcare Hospital offers a variety of mental health services both inpatient and outpatient to treat a wide range of addictions, including many types of drugs and alcohol.

The hospital’s Joint-Commission accredited facilities can hold up to 152 patients at a time and still provide a personalized, supportive environment for the recovery process. Standing by standards of respect, compassion, and dignity, Desert Parkway guides patients and their caregivers through healing addiction physically and emotionally. The Desert Parkway Transitions elderly mental health program in Las Vegas offers specialized treatment for older adults via our inpatient, partial hospitalization, and intensive outpatient levels of care.

If it is time for a life-changing and healing experience for you or a senior you know, contact Desert Parkway Behavioral Healthcare Hospital  today.

We are available 24/7. Call 877-663-7976. Hablamos español.