Senior Alcohol and Drug Abuse
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
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.
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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
- loss of income
- health problems
- change in housing or geographic location
- decline in physical activity
- chronic pain
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
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?
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.