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Many people think alcohol and drug use problems happen only to teens and younger adults. But all ages can have problems with drugs and alcohol, including older adults.
Older adults may use illegal drugs, use prescription or over-the-counter medicines in harmful ways, drink too much alcohol, or mix alcohol and medicines. Doing any of these can cause serious health problems and problems with money and the law. It also can harm relationships with family and friends.
Substance use problems in older adults may be overlooked, because:
An alcohol use problem is dangerous for all people, and it can be very dangerous for older adults. Older adults:footnote 1
In older adults, alcohol can trigger some health problems or make them worse. These health problems include high blood pressure, ulcers, liver disease, anxiety, sleep problems, and depression.footnote 1
Experts suggest that adults 65 and older have:footnote 1
Some older adults should not drink alcohol. Women who are small may want to ask their doctors what amount of alcohol is safe for them.
Older adults often have to take many medicines. This can easily lead to misuse of medicines. You misuse medicine when:
Below are some of the warning signs of alcohol or drug use problems in older adults. Signs can include changes in your behavior as well as changes in your mental abilities.
If you notice any of these signs in yourself or someone you care about, talk to your doctor. Tell your doctor about the drinking or medicine use, including over-the-counter medicines, herbs, and dietary supplements. Tell your doctor about any alcohol or drug use in the past.
Changes in behavior
You may have a drug or alcohol problem if:
Changes in mental abilities
Here are some mental signs of drug or alcohol use problems:
If you have any of these signs, it may not mean you have a drug or alcohol problem. Many of the signs listed here also can be signs of health problems many older adults have. Changes in behavior also could be signs of stress.
Drinking or misusing medicine or drugs often starts after a big change in your life. Retiring, the death of a spouse or good friend, leaving your home, and being diagnosed with a disease all can trigger substance use problems. If a life-changing event happens to you or a loved one, watch for signs of drug or alcohol use problems.
Treatment for alcohol or drug use problems in older adults is the same treatment as for younger people. Detoxification, medicine, counseling, therapy, and 12-step programs all may be used.
If medicine misuse is the problem, sometimes talking to a doctor, friend, or family member about the problem can help. Treatment could be as simple as learning more about your medicines and organizing how you take them. You may be able to work with your doctor to cut back on how many medicines you take or make it easier to take them.
Your success in treatment is strongly linked to admitting that you have a problem and to your desire to stop misusing alcohol or drugs.
CitationsDepartment of Health and Human Services (2008). Substance abuse among older adults. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP), Series 26 (DHHS Publication No. SMA 08-3918). Available online: http://store.samhsa.gov/product/TIP-26-Substance-Abuse-Among-Older-Adults/SMA08-3918.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal MedicineAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineMartin J. Gabica, MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerPeter Monti, PhD - Alcohol and AddictionChristine R. Maldonado, PhD - Behavioral Health
Current as ofMarch 20, 2017
Current as of: March 20, 2017
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Peter Monti, PhD - Alcohol and Addiction & Christine R. Maldonado, PhD - Behavioral Health
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