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February 26, 2014

Drug Abuse Rising Among Seniors?

According to some sources, drug abuse in the senior population is on the rise. Shocking? Yes. After all, no one thinks of grandma, grandpa and drug abuse in the same thought. However, research conducted in 2010 shows that approximately 4.3 million older adults used illegal drugs within the previous year. Further, the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), the agency that monitors the utilization of medications and illicit drugs reporting in emergency rooms across the nation, reported the two most common prescription drugs that are abused are benzodiazepines (such as Valium, Xanax, Klonopin, and Ativan) and opiates (such as oxycodone (Percocet), hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab), morphine, and methadone). The abuse ranges from dependence on solely one drug to several combinations.

Drug Abuse Rising Among SeniorsWhen exploring this topic, it is important to note the difference between the misuse of drugs versus the abuse of drugs. Misuse is unintentional, usually the result of inadvertent mixing of multiple medicines some seniors take for various medical conditions that occur as they age. If patients and doctors do not communicate and pay strict attention to multiple drugs prescribed to a senior, that senior can suffer adverse reactions when those drugs are mixed. Abuse, on the other hand, is intentional and can involve not only prescription painkillers and other drugs, but also those of nonprescription variety.

In both instances, it is important to recognize the signs a senior may exhibit when either misusing or abusing drugs. Symptoms can include: loss of appetite, memory loss, increased incidents of falling, losing balance, fluctuations in blood pressure, disruption of sleep patterns, anxiety, depression, lethargy, weakness, confusion and increased agitation. Detecting the signs in older adults may be challenging, as some of the symptoms are prevalent in seniors due to medical conditions or simply aging in general.

When approaching a senior regarding a potential drug problem, it is important to determine the type of use in question. If misuse is suspected, the matter may be simply resolved by implicit coordination with the senior's care providers to ensure multiple medications prescribed are safe to take together. Seniors in this instance may not even be aware they are misusing their medications. Monitoring the times these medications are taken can also be crucial to avoid accidental overdoses.

If abuse is suspected, the resolution can be a bit more challenging. Those who abuse drugs are clever at hiding it. Some seniors who abuse drugs may be doing so to alleviate physical pain. Others may use drugs to mask the emotional pain of losing a spouse and to combat general feelings of loneliness and isolation living alone can cause. Determining abuse in these cases might require stealthy measures, such as snooping through a loved one's medicine cabinet, dropping in unannounced for visits or even alerting the senior's doctor of the potential problem.

In the event of discovering a loved one is abusing drugs, one should not feel alone. With senior drug use on the rise, communities across the nation are rising to combat this growing problem. There are local, state and federal programs designed with seniors in mind to help them overcome these problems. Religious organizations also offer counseling services for families facing drug abuse. with proper help, there is success. It does not just take a village to raise a child - the village continues to care for its own as the child grows into adulthood and beyond. With helping hands, seniors can overcome these obstacles and achieve happy, healthy lifestyles throughout their golden years.

May, Luella. (2010). Statistics show drug abuse in seniors is rising. Retrieved on March 8, 2012, from
AGS Foundation for Health in Aging. Substance abuse. Retrieved on March 8, 2012, from
Carlson, Kathrine A., Ph.D. (1994). Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute University of Washington, Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Olympia, Washington.
The Prevention of Substance Abuse And Misuse Among the Elderly. Retrieved on March 8, 2012, from

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