Drug Misuse in the Elderly
When people think about drug misuse, the elderly aren’t the first to come to mind. In the eyes of most Americans, a “drug addict” is a young white male, in his twenties or early thirties. He is poor, homeless, jobless, and has little to no family ties.
Not Your Typical Drug Addict
In reality, a drug addict can be anyone, and that includes your grandmother. There is an increasing number of cases of the elderly abusing drugs and alcohol, and treatment centers are designing special programs to take their unique needs into account. Prescription drugs are the number one culprit, and they do not discriminate based on age.
Prescription Drug Misuse in Older Populations
One of the most common addictions seen in elderly treatment clients is addiction to prescription drugs. There is a few reasons that this population is susceptible to this kind of drug misuse.
- The elderly tend to have more medical problems, and doctors are more likely to prescribe medication to them.
- They have more pain, and therefore are prescribed stronger painkillers.
- Memory loss can be a problem, and they can forget that they already took their medicine, leading to excess use.
- Bad eyesight or mislabeled medications can cause a mix-up.
- Multiple doctors may be prescribing medication, which leads to over-dependency.
No matter what age a person is, drug misuse and abuse is detrimental to their well-being. It can affect everyone around them, and in the case of older people, that includes their children and even grand-children.
Signs of Drug Misuse in the Elderly
The older a person is, the more difficult it can be to determine that they are misusing prescription or illegal drugs. Additionally, they may be sensitive upon confrontation because of their pride and secrecy. They may feel like they are losing and that could elicit resentment. No adult wants to feel like their own child is parenting them, and confronting an elderly person about drug use can be one of those situations.
If you suspect an elderly person may be abusing drugs, the first thing you can do is try to get more involved in their medicine regimen. This can be as involved as going to their doctor’s appointments with them, to simply talking to them about what they are taking and when.
Warning signs that an elderly person in your life is taking drugs not as prescribed can include:
- Confusion not related to an illness
- Fluctuating mood
- Hostility, anger, and aggression
- Loss of mobility, inability to drive or walk without stumbling
- Seeing multiple doctors for the same condition
- Overdose or unconsciousness. If this happens, seek medical help immediately.
Many of these signs can be indicators that an underlying health condition is going on. However, if you have suspicion that it might be caused by drug misuse, it’s time to get involved in your loved one’s care.
Hidden Dangers of Prescription Pills
It’s no secret that prescription medication can be just as harmful as illegal street drugs. As a matter of fact, it is one of the major causes of the current opioid epidemic happening in the U.S. Elderly people are more inclined to trust doctors, and not question anything about being over prescribed medication. This lack of communication can lead to excessive dosing and an abundance of drugs.
Prescription pills don’t only pose a threat to the people they are prescribed to. 70% of teenagers who abuse prescription pills claim that they get them for free from family members or friends. Most of the time, those family members and friends have no idea. The numbers get even scarier, as one in eight teens has abused prescription drugs, and 60% of them are younger than 15.
How to Help
Awareness and education is paramount. Elderly patients who aren’t capable of doing so on their own should have their medication monitored. Someone needs to speak to them directly about the dangers that prescription medication poses, and keeping themselves safe.
If necessary and possible, going to doctor’s visits with an elderly patient can be a great way to speak with the doctor and have a clear understanding of what is going on. People often leave doctor’s offices feeling confused. Having another set of eyes and ears in the office can help clarify misunderstandings.
If you suspect that an elderly person in your life may be misusing their drugs, the best thing you can do is start by having a genuine conversation with them. The more you can get them to open up, the better. Often times, they may not know they have a problem until it is too late.
If you believe your loved one has a drug misuse problem, talk to them about getting help. The older population can be more resistant to getting help, but there are so many options out there that can work for anyone, in any position.
Awareness about the dangers of prescription drugs is the best thing you can do for yourself, the elderly people in your life, as well as everyone else. It’s an American problem that can be curbed with more people standing up, getting educated, and getting help if it is needed.