Substance Abuse By Seniors Is On The Rise

Most people don’t think of a grandparent when they picture the typical drug addict, but a significant number of seniors are developing problems with drug abuse.  The U.S. Department of Health reports that more than 8 million older adults are currently addicted to illegal drugs, medication and alcohol.  That number is expected to rise as members of the Baby Boom generation reach retirement age.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that admissions for substance abuse treatment for people age 50 and older nearly doubled between 1992 and 2008. Although alcohol abuse is still the leading cause of substance abuse hospitalization for seniors, admissions for drug abuse are on the rise.

Many of today’s seniors abused illicit drugs in their youth.  While a significant number of them have problems with illegal street drugs like heroin and cocaine, many are now abusing prescription drugs.  A 2008 SAMHSA study on drug abuse among older American found that 26% of admissions for treatment were related to cocaine and 25% were related to prescription drugs.  In addition, the study found that a larger proportion of seniors are seeking treatment for abuse of multiple substances, from 13% of seniors seeking treatment in 1992 to nearly 40% in 2008.

One of the biggest issues related to substance abuse among senior citizens is that it can go unnoticed and untreated.  Since retired people are less active in society, their problems with drugs and alcohol may not be detected.  Also, many seniors take several prescription drugs each day for health problems and abuse of these medications is not always easy to spot.

According to AARP, these are some signs to watch for if you’re concerned about an older friend or relative who may be abusing drugs or alcohol:

  • Lack of coordination and unsteadiness
  • Frequent falls and unexplained bruises
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Less attention paid to personal hygiene