It seems like yesterday when you could wake up early, go to the gym, head to work all day, come home and cook dinner, followed by the laundry, and watch your favorite TV show without skipping a beat. On the weekends, you would follow that up with family events without needing much sleep. It’s an unfortunate part of life to get older because we physically can’t achieve the same goals. While our minds are willing, our bodies can’t endure the same rigors anymore. As you reach your elderly years, adults in this age bracket are more susceptible to prescription drug abuse.
It’s not a surprise that we’re more likely to take prescription drugs as we reach our wisest years. A study released by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that more than 80 percent of adults aged 57 to 85 take at least one prescription medication each day. An estimated 50 percent take more than five medications or supplements daily. With the excessive number of prescriptions, the elderly have more opportunities to abuse their prescription drugs than others.
Elderly substance abusers face various risks, including harmful medication interactions, cognitive impairment, social isolation, poor nutrition, and an increased risk of falls leading to serious injuries. The problem is growing at an alarming rate, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reported that substance use disorder (SUD) rates in those older than 50 years would have increased from 2.8 million in 2006 to 5.7 million by 2020. The staggering increase has led to the need for specialized substance use treatment for the elderly.
As mentioned above, it’s challenging to accept your fate and not fulfill the same obligations you once could. With that said, the elderly also face other social, physical, and mental changes. As we age, our health starts to deteriorate, we might lose our significant other, and our children have families of their own, leading to isolation and loneliness. Prescription drug abuse might be what fills the void momentarily, but it may be killing you.
While signs of substance abuse will remain constant across the population, there are some differences as a person ages. It can make it more challenging to identify if an elderly member of your family abuses prescription drugs. To complicate this matter further, some signs resembling cognitive impairment and behaviors related to age require caregivers to be more aware of prescription drug abuse.
Although specific signs of elderly prescription drug abuse will vary from one person to another, some general signs include:
Addiction is a disease of the brain that will progress without help. The earlier the problem is recognized and dealt with, the higher likelihood of reducing adverse health effects. It will also lead to the older adult to find care providers that could help other problems that lead to the abuse. Without help, prescription drug abuse can lead to a decline in health and quality of life.
Prescription drug abuse can prevent the individual from taking care of themselves. It may also be challenging to maintain social interactions, proper nutrition, and adhering to medication regimens. Prescription drug abuse may also lead to the worsening of depression.
While some individuals will experience substance abuse at a young age that continues into their golden years, others will develop abuse patterns at an older age. The latter group will experience the same risk factors as younger prescription drug users that include:
These risk factors will occur more frequently as someone ages. On top of the above-listed factors, other risks more unique to the elderly include:
Specific medical conditions and a history of mental health problems are the primary causes behind elderly prescription drug abuse. Women are more likely to abuse prescription drugs than their male counterparts. An estimated 11 percent of older women will misuse their prescription medications, and non-medical use of prescription opioids led in the abuse category.
While some may misuse their medication, which can lead to complications, others misuse someone else’s prescription. In that scenario, the individual may have received the medication from a friend or family member with good intentions and had no idea the drug would be abused.
Prescription drug abuse occurs as a person looks to self-medicate a mental or physical concern. They may also use it recreationally to achieve intoxication. Opioids are commonly prescribed to the elderly to treat chronic pain or cancer. A large number of the elderly also use benzodiazepines for mental health concerns. The combination of benzos and opioids, even in young adults, can be deadly.
SAMHSA estimated that in 2011, 290 emergency room visits were from non-medical use of prescription medications, illegal drug use, or medications used in conjunction with alcohol. The numbers go as follows:
If you or an elderly family member struggles with prescription drug abuse, it may be time to seek help. For those struggling with health conditions unrelated to prescription drugs, abusing the substance can put you at greater risk of death. Treatment might be your last option.
The same report listed above from SAMHSA shows that over a million people over the age of 65 have a substance use disorder. This age group accounted for a meager 14,230 admissions to substance use treatment programs in 2012. There is a vast discrepancy between those who need help and actually seek it. The only way to combat this problem is for families of the elderly to understand the treatment options that can change their loved one’s life.
We understand that an older person will be reluctant to leave their surroundings and seek treatment. It may be in your best interest to seek a professional interventionist to help you gain an advantage and convince the person to get help. The best outcomes stem from a collaborative effort.
A treatment program for the elderly must address all of their needs, whether physical, psychological, financial, or mental. Many older individuals that anticipate withdrawal must consider medically-supervised detox because of the added stress to their bodies. Benzodiazepine withdrawal can be fatal even in a young, healthy adult, making professional help even more vital.
Once past the crucial stage of withdrawal, the older adult can move onto the next phase of the treatment process and focus on what pushed them to abuse prescription drugs. It will be led by highly-trained professionals that specialize in senior concerns. You don’t have to suffer another day with addiction.
DEA (N.D.) Benzodiazepines. from https://www.dea.gov/factsheets/benzodiazepines
NIH (June 2011) Substance Abuse in Women. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3124962/
SAMHSA (N.D.) A Day In the Life of Older Adults: Substance Use Facts. from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/report_2792/ShortReport-2792.html
NIDA (November 2020) What is the Scope of Prescription Drug Misuse? from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/misuse-prescription-drugs/what-scope-prescription-drug-misuse
NIH (August 2015) Substance Abuse Among Older Adults. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4146436/