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Senior Alcohol and Drug Abuse

Updated on August 23, 2019
Pamela99 profile image

I spent 22 years in the nursing profession. I enjoy writing, reading historical novels, gardening, and helping people live a healthier life.


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Startling Statistics

Typically, when we think of alcohol and drug abuse we think of young people or even middle-aged, but we really don't think about that problem for our senior citizens. It's like the best-kept secret, however, alcohol and drug abuse by seniors is a big problem as it estimated that there are more than 2.5 million senior abusers in the United States.

Shockingly there are more people over age 65 admitted to hospitals for alcoholism then there are for heart attacks. Medication misuse causes 25% of nursing home admissions. Clearly one half of those hospitalized for adverse prescription drug reactions are persons over age 65. It is estimated that 40% to 90% of seniors do not follow prescription medication directions.



Warning Signs Include:

The warning signs for alcohol and drug abuse include;

  • memory loss or confusion
  • decrease in normal social and recreational activities
  • inability to complete routines
  • decline in personal hygiene
  • slurred speech
  • excessive drowsiness
  • decreased appetite
  • unexplained hostility or defensiveness
  • frequent injuries/accidents
  • irritability, sadness, depression
  • loss of coordination (walking unsteadily, frequent falls)
  • unexplained chronic pain
  • changes in eating habits
  • wanting to stay alone a lot of the time

No Drugs Sign

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And Ever-increasing Problem

A complicating factor is that alcohol interacts negatively with more than 150 medications routinely prescribed for older adults. As an example, Uncle John may seem a bit confused or lose his balance frequently, and the relatives might assume that it is merely old age or the onset of dementia or Alzheimer's. The problem might be as simple as mixing up medication dosages and drinking alcohol, or they may be abusing prescription painkillers.

There was a study sponsored by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration that reveal between 1992 and 2008 the proportion of substance abuse treatment admissions involving Americans age 50 and older nearly doubled. The study also revealed a sharp rise in the proportion of older adult admissions related to illicit drug use abuse, although alcohol abuse is the leading cause of admissions in the age group.

Motivational Speaker Brings Personal Story to Aviano About the Dangers of Substance Abuse

Risk Factors

There are particular risk factors that might lead a person to abuse alcohol and/or drugs.

These risk factors include:

  • loss of spouse or loved one
  • retirement
  • loss of income
  • health problems
  • change in housing or geographic location
  • decline in physical activity
  • isolation
  • chronic pain
  • depression/anxiety

What has Jacksonville, FL Done About this Problem?

In Jacksonville, Florida they have the SAGES (Solutions Aimed at Growth & Empowerment for Seniors) program. SAGES consists of several coalition partners and various agencies and businesses. "Their mission is to facilitate comprehensive community education and development of quality services related to substance misuse and mental health in the older adult." SAGES just celebrated their 10th year in Jacksonville.

Their first objective was to develop a plan as to what they could accomplish and how they could get others involved. Since that beginning meeting they have met monthly with regular speakers in an educational program, including seminars throughout the year.

Members pay a modest yearly fee of $10 per individuals and $25 for agencies or businesses. Other funding comes through grants and donations. Gateway Community Services (which is a drug alcohol rehab for adolescents) is their strongest supporter.

Alcohol Abuse Among Seniors

SAGES Accomplishments

The main problems they have encountered are four things:

  • mismanagement of prescription medication
  • a lot of crack cocaine addicts – which are mostly baby boomers
  • women on Valium that they mixed with wine
  • alcohol abuse

Their biggest project was inspired by the mismanagement of prescription medication and it is called the Red Bag Project. Coalition members pass out bright red bags to seniors printed with instructions to place all prescription medications, both old and new, all over-the-counter medications and all vitamins and herbal supplements in the bag and take it to their next doctor visit.

The patient's doctor can check for drug interactions, drug and supplement contraindications, outdated or no longer needed prescriptions.

SAGES have developed a brochure on substance abuse and older adults. They are recognized as one of the top sources in Jacksonville for information and education related to senior substance abuse. If you need assistance or would like to help their phone number is 904–388–8273.


There are many associations in cities around the United States that do similar work, so if you have a family member that you suspect is abusing alcohol and/or drugs pick up the phone and call for help.

Seniors may need to be in drug alcohol rehab in order to live or at least have a better quality of life. Alcohol problems do not know social boundaries, the color of your skin doesn't matter; you may be in any socioeconomic group and have this disease.

After reading the symptoms please answer the question.

Do you know of a senior person that you suspect it's abusing alcohol and or drugs?

See results

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


Submit a Comment
  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    8 years ago from Sunny Florida

    iguidenetwork, Thank you so much for your comments.

  • iguidenetwork profile image


    8 years ago from Austin, TX

    This is a very tragic situtation. Alcohol at any level should not be consumed.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    8 years ago from Sunny Florida

    molometer, Thank you so much for your input. I appreciate your comments.

  • molometer profile image

    Micheal is 

    8 years ago from United Kingdom

    Great hub pamela99. I was a little shocked that the most crack addicted age range was baby boomers but if you think about it for a while it makes sense. They were the generation that lived through the swinging 60's as teenagers and young adults and were exposed to lots of hype about how "cool it was to "smoke, drink and do drugs" think of Dr Tim Leary "turn on, tune in & drop out". A Berkeley University professor telling an already willing audience to go for it? Now we are reaping that whirlwind.

    Glad you brought up the issue as we tend to think of these issues as "youth problems".

    It's obvious now that it is a problem of all ages.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    9 years ago from Sunny Florida

    rituanya, It's true many people need help and I think the teens are particularly important. Thanks for your comments.

  • profile image


    9 years ago

    Nice post and article based on drug abuse. Thanks for giving such essential information. Today various business are helping for reduce the problem of addiction and for this they are supporting to rehabs. It’s very necessary that all the people should give some time and help to addicts. Teenagers can get relief easily with the help of society.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    9 years ago from Sunny Florida

    cheaptrick, You are correct as it's very easy to fall over that cliff and then wonder how you got there. Thanks so much for your comments.

    Caribqueen, It does sound like sages does a wonderful job. It is sad deceased an elderly person that is addicted to narcotics or alcohol. Thank you so much for your comments.

  • CARIBQUEEN profile image


    9 years ago from Trinidad & Tobago

    This is an informative hub Pamela. The very fact that seniors realise that they are aging also cause them to reach for the bottle. Some started in their youths and just continue in their mature years. I feel sorry when I see aged persons drunk and disoriented. Their quality of life becomes small when they should be living large as they can now give back to the community. The accomplishments of SAGES seem to be marvellous and I hope persons would avail themselves to such assistance. Good hub.

  • cheaptrick profile image


    9 years ago from the bridge of sighs

    Well done P.I'm approaching the"Elderly"point my self and this points out some pitfalls to avoid.I've been lucky enough to be surrounded by an incredible group of friends who take pride in self control,but one never knows which demons await dose one?


  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    9 years ago from Sunny Florida

    RTalloni, Thank you for pointing out the dismissiveness of the elderly as I think you are right on target. I appreciate your comments.

  • profile image


    9 years ago

    I am not familiar with alcohol abuse among the elderly, only prescription drug abuse. All of it is sad. When they could be giving so much to a needy society they are trapped with substance abuse! Part of the problem, though, is the dismissiveness of the elderly by our society. Glad you highlighted the problem so people can know to offer more care to their elderly relatives.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    9 years ago from Sunny Florida

    Dr. Irum, I'm glad you liked the hub and I appreciate your comments.

  • Dr irum profile image

    Dr irum 

    9 years ago

    Thanks for your great information on topic senior alcohol and drug abuse .

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    9 years ago from Sunny Florida

    GPAGE, It is scary when you think of some seniors that live alone and maybe don't see very well or they can get pills mixed up. Thanks so much for your comment.

    Peggy, Your statements about the elderly is so true. Thanks so much for your comments.

    rpalulis, I fully agree about the seniors being at greater risks for many reasons. If they fall they are m,ore likely to fracture bones, etc. Thanks so much for your comment.

  • rpalulis profile image


    9 years ago from NY

    Mixed medications and alcohol never go well together, thank you for shedding some light here on senior alcohol/drug abuse. Your right this is often regarded to the young when in fact many seniors abuse this and are at even greater health risk.

  • Peggy W profile image

    Peggy Woods 

    9 years ago from Houston, Texas

    You bring topics of importance to HubPages, Pamela. So many seniors are over-medicated, and then adding alcohol to the mix can really aggravate problems. Rated useful and up!

  • GPAGE profile image


    9 years ago from California

    pamela....this is shocking! I never thought of this?.....Wow! I will pass this along to my friends on facebook.....No one ever thinks of Seniors having issues with abusing substances or mixing with alcohol. I was always there to monitor medications for my father and grandmother, but never thought of the idea that some Seniors may not get it right.....scary.....G

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    9 years ago from Sunny Florida

    KKGals, I think loneliness is probably a main reason for the alcohol abuse. Thanks for your comments.

  • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

    Susan Hazelton 

    9 years ago from Sunny Florida

    Pamela, how sad that there are so many at risk seniors. I read somewhere that lonliness is one of the major driving forces behind alcohol and drug abuse. Wonderful article. Voted up and useful.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    9 years ago from Sunny Florida

    Katie, I hadn't thought about the driving but hope most are just drinking at home. The bottle of liquor that they forgot under the mattress is a sure clue. I hop your mother is doing better. Thanks for the comments.

  • katiem2 profile image

    Katie McMurray 

    9 years ago from Westerville

    WOW I had not considered this and yet it makes perfect sense. As you know My mother has recently left her home due to a long term hospital stay.

    I was in her home hosting to visitors. Once a older family member had left, I went in the guest room to remove the bedding for laundry. I had just put clean bedding on for their stay, so I know there was nothing under the mattress...

    I lifted the mattress to get hold of the sheets to remove them and found a bottle of liquor just under the corner of the bed...

    Great article, and good food for thought this Senior Alcohol Abuse and Drug Abuse, not to mention the prescribed drug usage as well. My goodness these folks are driving...

    Rated up! :) Katie

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    9 years ago from Sunny Florida

    Mighty Mom, I think you made some good points and I appreciate your comments about older seniors finding sobriety. Thanks.

  • Mighty Mom profile image

    Susan Reid 

    9 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

    Excellent hub, Pamela! Looking at the list of symptoms, they are all common and can very easily be misread as "just aging."

    The potential for overmedicating is HUGE with this population as well. I suspect part of that is that seniors tend to lose weight as they age, so the same quantity that used to be effective suddenly is too much.

    Thanks for bringing this issue to light.

    BTW, I'm happy to share that I have met quite a few "sober seniors" -- including folks who came into the program after 60 -- or even 70! Awareness is key. MM

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    9 years ago from Sunny Florida

    Audry, I agree that alcoholism and addictions know no bounds. Thanks for your comments.

  • akirchner profile image

    Audrey Kirchner 

    9 years ago from Washington

    Pamela, I think drugs and alcoholism know no boundaries when it comes to age and people who are prone to it just get sucked in, again no matter how young or old. Only if they realize that it is a problem can they shake it or beat it.

    Great information though on a subject most folks never think about. I do a lot of reports on this myself so I know how serious a problem it can be.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    9 years ago from Sunny Florida

    David, I think most of us didn't realize the extinct of the problem. Thanks for your comments.

  • profile image


    9 years ago

    Very informative, Pamela. I didn't realize that this problem was so widespread. When I think of senior citizens, I don't think of drug or alcohol abuse. I think that it's sad that people who have lived such long lives would fall victim to this. As with anyone who suffers from depression, and, consumes large amounts of alcohol, it's too bad that they don't seek a doctor's prescription for anti-depression medication.

    Great hub!

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    9 years ago from Sunny Florida

    JY, I appreciate you sharing your experience. Thanks so much for your comment.

    always exploring, It is sad. Thank you for your comment.

    acaetenna, I think most people are surprised at how prevalent alcoholism is with senior citizens. Thanks so much for your comment.

    Mickey Dee, You make a very good point. I certainly appreciate your comments. God bless you Mickey.

  • Micky Dee profile image

    Micky Dee 

    9 years ago

    We need to put the right fuel in these bodies Pamela. People shouldn't put so many things in there but especially things that make you drowsy, sleepy, unconscious, dead. God bless you Pamela!

  • acaetnna profile image


    9 years ago from Guildford

    Great information here Pamela. I had absolutely no idea that alcoholism was so prevalent amongst the elderly. Thank you for sharing this insight.

  • always exploring profile image

    Ruby Jean Richert 

    9 years ago from Southern Illinois

    This is surprising. How sad. Thank you.

  • JY3502 profile image

    John Young 

    9 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

    Pam, You are absolutely correct on these stats and it is a major problem. I have worked around senior institutions and have witnessed much of what you have written.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    9 years ago from Sunny Florida

    Becky, I found those statistics surprising also. Thanks for your comments.

  • Becky Puetz profile image

    9 years ago from Oklahoma

    Pamela, I'm very surprised to hear these statistics. I had no idea that senior addictions were that bad. Thanks for an informative, awesome Hub.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    9 years ago from Sunny Florida

    drbj, I think the elderly may have it tougher without adequate income as you pointed out and this could be a cause of this exacerbating problem. Thanks so much for your comments.

  • drbj profile image

    drbj and sherry 

    9 years ago from south Florida

    What a shocking statistic that is, Pamela. 2.5 million senior drug and alcohol abusers in the U.S.?

    Now that I think about this problem having read your excellent hub, I realize that number is not so surprising when one considers the problems we all face in our country today. Problems that are exacerbated for those who are older and ill.

    Thanks for bringing this issue to our attention.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    9 years ago from Sunny Florida

    WillStar, I can understand you feeling that way as withdrawal from alcohol may be physically very hard on her. It sounds like she is the type of alcoholic that drinks throughout the day and maintains a fairly steady blood level. I sure can't advise you on this one and I appreciate your comments.

    Patriot, I hear what you are saying and if the drinking is not a problem then the choice is yours. Thanks for your comment.

  • profile image

    Partisan Patriot 

    9 years ago


    This regime makes me want to drink each and every day; sometimes I resist sometimes I don't!

  • WillStarr profile image


    9 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

    We're torn on this one...we have an elderly family member who consumes 8 to 10 beers a day and scoffs at any suggestion that she cut back or stop altogether. She doesn't get 'drunk' in the usual sense, isn't a problem, and seems to enjoy herself.

    Since she's at the end of life stage anyway, we wonder if we should just leave her alone.


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