Elderly Prescription Drug Abuse
When it comes to drug abuse, elderly adults are more prone to addiction than other age groups. Seniors use prescription drugs for all sorts of ailments, from chronic pain to insomnia. According to the NCADD, those 65 years of age and older consume nearly 40 percent of all medications prescribed in the country. And in contrast to other age groups, the elderly are more likely to take an increasing number of prescription drugs at any given time. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) estimates that about 3 in 10 people between the ages of 57 and 85 use at least five prescription drugs. Additionally, about 25 percent of seniors take highly addictive psychoactive medications for longer periods of time than any other age group. All of these statistics add up to seniors being much more likely than any other age group to experience prescription drug addiction.
Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse in Older Adults
Any (or all) of these red flags could indicate your loved one is struggling with a dependence on prescription drugs. Signs include:
- Filling a prescription for the same medication at different pharmacies
- Getting a prescription for one medication from several doctors
- Taking a higher dose of a medicine than instructed
- Disregarding warning labels on pill bottles
- Taking pills at unusual times during the day
- Having a supply of “extra” pills in a pocket or purse
- Making excuses for needing extra medicine
- Hiding medication
- Exhibiting negative changes in mood or behavior
- Appearing confused or forgetful
- Becoming defensive when asked about their medication
Misdiagnosis of Senior Substance Use Disorders
Misdiagnosis of substance use disorders in seniors happens for many reasons. Insufficient knowledge limited data and rushed office visits all contribute to this problem. The red flags of substance abuse in older individuals may be difficult to pinpoint, as they are similar to the signs of aging. They can also mimic the signs of other common disorders seniors experience, like diabetes, dementia and depression.
Making matters worse, the signs of addiction can appear differently in seniors, which can lead to misdiagnosing of medication and the overlooking (or dismissal) of drug dependence altogether. In addition, most doctors will not automatically suspect that a senior has a drug use problem, even though the elderly are often prescribed several drugs simultaneously.
Senior Medication Misdosing
When seniors take multiple medications, misdosing can be accidental. But in other cases, this can occur due to cognitive decline (and in some cases, Alzheimer’s disease), disregard for warning labels, chemical dependence, and misdiagnosis by a doctor. It can be difficult for older adults to remember when and how to take each of their medications, especially when their memory isn’t as clear as it used to be and they are taking multiple prescriptions for a longer period of time.
Incorrect dosing of medication can lead to chemical dependence and addiction, so it’s important to always take each prescription as directed. If you’re worried about your medication use or that of a loved one, talk to your doctor or medical professional. You can ask questions like, “Do I take any pills that shouldn’t be taken together?” or “What should I do if I feel like I can’t stop taking a medicine?”
Treatment for Elderly Substance Abuse
Being the family member of a senior with a drug or alcohol problem can be a hard struggle to cope with. Your loved one may be unaware that they have an addiction, without realizing that the risks increase with the amount of pills they take. If your elderly parent, friend or family member is visibly impaired, defensive about their medications, or displays other uncharacteristic behavior, it may be time to seek professional rehab care.
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