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Rising trend of substance abuse among senior citizens

Old age is the most vulnerable period of life when numerous physical and mental disabilities appear that are unique to older adults. Many seniors happily accept their transition into old age, but there are others who find it difficult to deal with the progressive decline in cognitive and motor abilities that begin in the latter part of life. This age-related loneliness and depression compel many elderly people to turn to alcohol or drugs, which if continued, can get worse over time.

While seniors are not commonly seen using illegal drugs like marijuana or cocaine, their overdependence on a significant number of painkillers and other kinds of medicines for chronic ailments may trigger drug addiction. An overdependence on prescription medications, such as OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin and fentanyl, can eventually lead to drug abuse problem and addiction.

Millions of older adults remain oblivious of their addiction habit and rarely consult a physician to reduce their dependence on drugs. As per the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), the signs of substance abuse are remarkably different in older adults than in youth due to changes pertaining to health, family obligations, lifestyle, work, etc. that accompany old age.

Though it is not always easy to spot drinking or drug problem in the elderly, presence of the following signs and symptoms should act as an alarm:

  • significant memory loss accompanied with confusion
  • noticeable loss of interest in hobbies and other activities
  • drinking in solitude, despite knowing the warning signs on prescription drugs
  • symptoms of anxiety, depression and irritability, along with sleep-related problems
  • higher chances of developing other medical conditions

It has been observed that alcohol can have an adverse impact on a number of prescription medications. Hence, seniors who take such pills must keep away from alcohol or drugs of abuse.

Dramatic rise in use of prescription drugs among elderly

People aged 65 and older, who comprise 13 percent of the U.S. population, account for nearly 30 percent prescription medications circulating in the U.S., said a 2015 report by the NCADD. Numerous older adults also abuse certain over-the-counter (OTC) medications and other dietary supplements, often suggested by friends or relatives.

But older adults are more likely to experience drastic effects of overdependence on these drugs due to the inability of the body to process medications and combat potential drug reactions. Older adults receive nearly 17 million prescriptions for tranquilizers, such as benzodiazepines, each year, said the report.

Treating substance abuse in elderly

Once identified, substance abuse can be treated in the elderly population using multiple treatment options. But doctors need to keep in mind that they are dealing with a vulnerable group of people and hence, need to communicate in an empathetic manner.

Moreover, older adults need to understand the risk of taking such abusive drugs and focus on increasing their awareness about the adverse impact of drug abuse and addiction. Some of the steps to check addiction in this groups are:

  • Doctors should identify exact causes of abuse and develop adequate measures to lead such patients toward a drug-free life.
  • There are many addiction support groups that can help older adults regain self-control and build a life away from dangers of abusive drugs.
  • Elderly fighting addiction problems can seek help from drug addiction rehab centers, which provide state-of-the-art facilities to help fight against substance abuse.

Drug-free life is possible

Addiction does not happen at once. Any kind of addiction is harmful, be it dependence on alcohol or drugs. The first step to recovery is to realize and admit that one has a problem with addiction and needs help.

If you or your loved one is addicted and is looking for help, contact the 24/7 Recovery Helpline for more information on drug addiction rehabilitation centers available in your vicinity. Call at our 24/7 helpline number 855-441-4405 or chat online for further advice on drug rehab centers.

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