Substance abuse is critically dangerous at any age but when it comes to the elderly the severity of it is even greater. Drug/alcohol abuse among senior citizens over the age of 60 is most under-diagnosed due to many factors and that is what makes it, even more, life threatening.
The causes of substance abuse among the elderly include:
- Death/Loss of a loved one
- Chronic illness or memory loss
- Conflicts in the family
- Lack of mobility
- Financial strain
- Moving away from hometown etc.
Coping with old age itself is tough for most senior citizens. Lifestyle changes occur that are hard to adapt to and loss of energy, social life or a loved one are a few of the highest causes of drug abuse among the elderly. The addiction to alcohol or drugs or both can be easily triggered in such cases.
There are actually two types of substance abusers among the elderly:
- The hardy survivors – are old age people who have been substance abusers earlier in life too. Either they never gave up or the substance might have triggered once again when they survive to the age of 65 or above.
- Late onset – Senior citizen might not be hard abusers earlier in life but due to circumstances that might be difficult to cope with in old age, they tend to become addicted to drugs and alcohol.
- The substances most abused by age group 60 – 65 are:
- Alcohol – more elderly men and women fall into alcoholism and tend to drink above the peak danger level. It is the top most abused substance among the senior citizens and the intake gets uncontrollable if goes unchecked.
- Prescription drugs – it is quite common for elderly over the age of 65 to become addicted to the psychoactive and sedative drugs that might be prescribed for mind altering by the doctors.
- Marijuana – the reason why this drug is highly abused by the senior citizens is because it was quite popularly abused in the 60s. The senior citizens might have been familiar with its use earlier in life and so find themselves in its need in this stage of life.
The most dangerous thing about substance abuse among the senior citizens is the fact that they are highly prone to falling into substance abuse. The lack of commitments and responsibilities in their age causes depression and the thoughts that occur during the depression causes them to fall into drug abuse without the fear of getting ill or even loss of their own life. The depression further falls into serious drug abuse and secretive drinking which is almost impossible to be diagnosed. Misdiagnosis can be done easily and so senior citizens don’t get serious help.
There are symptoms common among the elderly that can trigger substance abuse in them. Symptoms like:
- Memory problems – hard time remembering recent events and often recalling events from early life
- Change in sleeping patterns – sleeping too much during the day and keeping themselves awake till late at night
- Mood swings – unexplainably happy or sad, irritability without any reason
- Change in eating habits – eating less or more than usual
- Loss of interest – in hobbies and activities that were once their favorite
- Craving solidarity – wanting to be left alone more often
- Bruises – unexplainable bruises on the body often
- Physical appearance – failing to bath or basic self-grooming, not changing clothes
Guardians and caretakers should keep keen eyes for such symptoms and get professional help for the elderly. Talk to them and try communicating with them openly to see what issues are bothering them. Divorced, widowed, separated senior citizens are more likely to fall into substance abuse. More men than women from the age of 60 and above can fall into alcoholism. The senior citizen who has a history of substance abuse in the past or in the family is highly prone to the risk of substance abuse. Elderly who live by themselves are also guilty of being substance abusers as it’s easy for them to hide it. Doctors fail to recognize the substance abuse in elderly as they prescribe medications to treat the causes like depression and insomnia.