The New Face of Prescription Drug Abuse: Older Adults

Prescription drugs have an abuser you may not expect—adults in their golden years. For some older adults, aging can be stressful. Many develop chronic diseases that require them to take more prescription drugs than younger people, and the expanding cocktail of drugs used by older adults poses a serious problem.

A patient might take more of a drug than prescribed, combine it with alcohol or take a treatment for a different purpose. For instance, the doctor may write a prescription for insomnia. If you take the drug during the day instead just to feel better, that’s misuse.

Abuse often stems from medication misuse. Abuse occurs when you use a prescription in a hazardous way, or in a way that causes a decline in physical or social function. If an addiction develops, the medication once used for treatment no longer helps a person’s health. Instead, he or she can’t help but seek out and misuse medications, despite the negative consequences.

Older Adults at Higher Risk for Abuse

The sheer number of drugs older adults take boosts their odds of abusing them. And certain treatments that are often prescribed to older adults carry a higher risk for addiction or dependence. These include opioids to help with pain and benzodiazepines used to treat anxiety or sleep disorders.

Prescription drug abuse boosts older adults’ risk for falls, confusion, impaired vision, and depression. Addiction can change personalities. If it leads to overdose, it can be fatal.

 Look for Signs of a Drug Problem

At first, family members or caregivers may not recognize the signs of abuse or addiction. They often mimic those of other health conditions.

Keep an eye out for the following signs:

  • Frequent requests for refills of certain drugs
  • Mood changes, including a lack of interest and energy
  • Concerns about whether a medication is really working
  • Using more than one pharmacy to fill prescriptions
  • Complaints that a doctor won’t write a prescription
  • Moving from doctor to doctor to get more medication

The good news is that substance abuse is treatable. If you think an older adult close to you may have a drug problem, don’t stay silent. Talk with a doctor, substance abuse professional or other health care provider. Treatment may include addiction medications, counseling, group therapy or a combination of these options. 

Take the first step on your recovery journey

West Pines Behavioral Health provides hope, healing and recovery for adults with addiction concerns. Our holistic approach to treatment focuses on the physical, emotional, social and spiritual well-being of our patients. Get help now by calling 303-467-4080 or visiting westpinesrecovery.org.