Did you know that substance abuse and problems with addiction are pretty common in the senior community? 

Alcohol is the most commonly abused drug among elderly men, and they rely on drinking it to get them through the day. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to abuse their prescription medications. As a result, a good amount of elderly hospitalizations are related to drug and alcohol abuse.

Continue reading to learn about addiction among the elderly populations.

Substance Abuse Poses Greater Risk Towards Seniors

Drug and alcohol abuse is dangerous (and potentially deadly) for anyone regardless of their age. However, it’s even more likely to dangerously impact seniors because they are:

  • More susceptible to the deteriorating properties of drugs and alcohol
  • Less likely to metabolize what they ingest properly
  • More sensitive to these chemical changes in the brain


Even the regular use of drugs and alcohol is dangerous in regards to the older population. 

Seniors generally take daily medication that can interact with drugs and alcohol when mixed. The interactions can be deadly when it causes spikes in blood glucose levels or blood pressure.

Medications, such as Benzodiazepines, are given to older people generously to help curb symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, or chronic pain rather than helping them get to the root of the issue. 

Causes of Addiction in the Elderly

There are so many risk factors that can increase the chance of becoming addicted to a substance. Addiction can be linked to a health-related or life-changing event in their life. This event can take an emotional toll on them and provoke certain behaviors regarding drugs and/or alcohol.

Every situation, however, is unique amongst seniors.

Individuals with a history of substance abuse or mental illness might be more likely to turn to drugs and alcohol than someone who doesn’t. People might also turn to drugs and alcohol if they are struggling with the death of a loved one, loneliness, or chronic pain.  

Potential triggers of drug or alcohol addiction can involve retiring from their career, relocating to a retirement home, or experiencing the death of a loved one. It can cause them to struggle with the loss of purpose or loss of income.

Some might struggle with insomnia under the stress of taking care of a sick family member. As a result, they might drink as a way to fall asleep. Conflict with the family or the decline in mental or physical health can also cause an older individual to turn to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism. 

Signs of Addiction in Seniors

Identifying addiction in elderly people can be a challenge because the symptoms of addiction can be passed off as something else entirely. Healthcare providers might see the signs of addiction but diagnose their patients with dementia or depression because other illnesses can manifest themselves as the symptoms of addiction.

If someone in your family is struggling with drug addiction, you might notice an increase in:

  • Memory problems
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Unexplained bruising
  • Unexplained chronic pain

You might notice changes in their regular habits. They might sleep more or less than usual and they might not be eating. You might even notice a lack of hygiene and wearing dirty clothes.

Someone who is struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction might want to be left alone, lose interest in favorite activities, or fail to stay in touch with their loved ones.

Addiction Prevention Among Elderly

For some people, getting older means that their world is shrinking. Limited mobility, physical pain, financial strain, and the inability to drive can make it more difficult to get around or travel to see family and friends. This makes them feel as if they have no one to talk to and are a burden to others.

You can help to lower your loved one’s chance of developing an addiction. By involving them in your plans, you can help them feel more like themself again.

Invite them to family birthday parties, share meals with them, and make time to talk to them on the phone. Asking an older family member for help can help them feel like they have a purpose again. 

It can help them to feel some sort of control over their lives when everything is changing. Thus, preventing less healthy coping mechanisms, like drinking alcohol.

Treating Addiction in Seniors

The best thing that you can do for someone who is dealing with an addiction is to get them some help. It’s important to consider your options for intervention and treatment as soon as you notice the signs in your elderly family member.

A drug detox program might be the first logical step for someone in this situation. However, there are other programs and tools available to those who are ready for a change.

Therapy is a useful tool in recovering from addiction. Treatment centers might offer different types of therapy including cognitive behavior therapy, individual therapy sessions, and group therapy sessions. 

These facilities might be able to offer medical or psychiatric treatment in a residential program setting. 

Peer support groups are ideal for anyone going through recovery. It can be difficult for them to relate to younger people. Thankfully, there are peer support groups for the older population where everyone in the group is close to their age. 

Get Addiction Treatment Today

Seniors might turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with the changes occurring in their lives. However, drug or alcohol addiction will take its toll on anyone involved.

The sooner you seek treatment for your elderly family member, the sooner your family will be able to move forward. Help is available right here in Southern California. Contact Inland Detox today for more information on our detox and residential programs. We’d be happy to look into your particular situation and help your elderly loved one get the help that they need.

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