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Seniors Author: Staff Editor Last Updated: May 26, 2014 - 6:31:40 PM



Substance Abuse Among Seniors on the Rise

By Staff Editor
May 26, 2014 - 6:24:52 PM



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(HealthNewsDigest.com) - The elderly are likely one of the last groups of people you would imagine struggle with drug and alcohol abuse. Yet, new data indicates that substance abuse is actually a growing epidemic among seniors worldwide. Whether pre-existing alcohol and drug habits become heightened with age, or loneliness, mental health issues and other stressors spur the unhealthy behavior, substance abuse can have serious consequences on physical and mental wellbeing.

When discussing this issue, it's important to distinguish between misuse and abuse. The main difference between misuse and abuse is the intention - abuse occurs when a person takes a drug for the sole purpose of experiencing a pleasant or euphoric feeling while misuse occurs when a person takes a drug to enhance its therapeutic effects. While drug misuse is far more prevalent among seniors since they often take a number of prescribed and over-the-counter medications to treat chronic illnesses, drug abuse is just as serious a problem.Based on these distinctions, it's important to note that a senior that is misusing prescription medications is likely doing so because his or her current treatment plan is no longer effective. While a more intensive treatment plan may be necessary for a drug abuse problem, a simple re-evaluation of pain level/symptoms and dosage may be enough to control misuse.Dependence and addiction are two more terms that require distinction. A number of prescription medications can result in physical dependence, causing withdrawal symptoms when no longer taken. Because of this, a doctor will often recommend that a patient gradually reduce his or her dose over time. Addiction, however, can be far more difficult to overcome as it involves not only a physical dependency, but also a mental dependency.   Some of the more common drugs that seniors misuse or abuse include:

  • Opioids: common opioids include oxycodone (Percocet and Oxycontin), hydrocodone (Vicodin and Norco) and other related medicines used to treat pain such as codeine and morphine.
  • Benzodiazepines: common benzodiazepines used to treat anxiety, insomnia, bipolar and panic disorders include diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), alprazolam (Xanax) and clonazepam (Klonopin).
  • Alcohol
  • Stimulants: common stimulants include Ritalin and Adderall.

While the percentage of seniors using illegal drugs is low, the percentage of older adults abusing prescription drugs is significant and expected to rise. According to the Prevention Tactics report, 12 to 15% of seniors who seek medical attention show signs of prescription drug abuse. Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medical School estimate that the number of individuals over the age of 50 abusing prescription drugs will increase by 190% from 2001 to 2020. In addition, according to a study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, more than a third of seniors over the age of 60 consume excessive and potentially harmful amounts of alcohol.If you notice that your loved one appears overly sedated, disoriented or unsteady, or requests early refills, then he or she may have a substance abuse problem. Additional signs of drug or alcohol abuse include serious mood swings, poor hygiene, increased isolation and changes in appetite. If your elderly loved one exhibits these signs, you should intervene and alert his or her physician. As a reminder, we will be holding a free, public webinar for caregivers and health and senior care professionals on Thursday, June 12th, at 10:00 AM Pacific, 1:00 PM Eastern. Led by Certified Dementia Specialist and best-selling author Carol Howell, the hour-long webinar will cover various forms of dementia and caregiving tips presented in her latest book, Let's Talk Dementia - A Caregiver's Guide.

Space is limited, so make sure to reserve your seat as soon as possible by registering here:  http://bit.ly/dementiawebinar.

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