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There’s no doubt that modern developments of certain medications have not only saved lives but alleviated many symptoms of chronic illnesses that make it possible for people to thrive. However, when not used properly, drugs can cause a new set of health problems and also lead to addiction and abuse of that substance. Because substance abuse is on the rise in aging adults, it’s important for family caregivers to be aware of the problem, watch for symptoms and be prepared to step in and help as needed.
What is Substance Abuse in Seniors?
Substance abuse is the misuse of legal and illegal drugs and/or alcohol in ways that go beyond their intended use. Often, the substances are used in excessive amounts to create certain feelings or reactions in the body. Seniors are often drawn to substance abuse to get through stress or trauma, such as declining health, loss of a loved one, mental health issues and worry about finances and the future.
These higher doses of drugs and alcohol can cause health problems in the body, straining organs, enhancing diseases and creating dependence for the physical and mental reactions the substances stimulate. Elderly adults are often more susceptible to the health dangers of substance abuse because their bodies are not as robust in regaining health, so the substance abuse takes a higher toll. Because aging adults also take many different kinds of medication for health issues, they are more likely to suffer from adverse reactions when medications are not taken properly.
Treating Seniors with Substance Abuse
Family caregivers and home care providers will be among the first to recognize that the aging adult is dealing with substance abuse. Symptoms include lethargy, confusion, insomnia, mood swings, depression, anxiety and memory loss. Certain behaviors can also give away a substance abuse problem. Examples include getting defensive about taking medicine or alcohol intake, make excuses about needing more, sneaking medication out of bottles and filling up prescriptions before they are due and taking medication differently than instructed by a doctor.
If they suspect that substance abuse is happening, family caregivers and home care providers must take the first step in setting up a doctor’s appointment. The doctor can help the elderly adult sort out their medications and see a pattern of substance abuse. If the aging adult needs to deal with an addiction of some kind, the doctor can help with that process as well. However, the doctor can only help with the physical aspects of substance abuse, so they usually recommend a therapist to guide the aging adult through the emotional and mental healing needed.
When elderly adults have a substance abuse problem, it’s common for family caregivers to overlook it or not even notice it. However, to have the best physical and mental health possible, elderly adults should not be bound up by addiction and abuse. Instead, they must rely on their support team and handle the challenges of life feeling healthy, strong and loved, without the cloud of substance abuse hanging over them.