Our grandmothers are special people in our lives. We can always count on them for unconditional love, caring and pampering and they always do so with a tenderness that makes you love them even more. What if you noticed one day that grandma is not acting like herself? That sweet and polite lady has become distant, forgetful, and even combative? You know that she has been taking medication for her various health conditions, but you would never think in a million years that she would have a problem with her medication–or even become addicted. What if your grandmother is indeed addicted to drugs and/or alcohol? What do you do?

Addiction and the Senior Population

senior citizen drug addict

While it is not an age group that we normally talk about in regards to substance abuse, addiction among the senior citizen population is very real, and the statistics may surprise you. According to the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information, as many as 17% of adults age 60 and over abuse prescription drugs. Additionally, one in eight people seeking help for substance abuse, including illegal drugs, prescription drugs, and over-the-counter drugs is aged 50 and older.

In a recent article in USA Today, the following information regarding substance abuse among senior citizens was listed:

  • According to data collected from IMS Health, which tracks drug dispensing for the government, the 55 million opioid prescriptions written last year for people 65 and over marked a 20% increase over five years — nearly double the growth rate of the senior population. The number of benzodiazepine prescriptions climbed 12% over that period, to 28.4 million.
  • In 2012, the average number of seniors misusing or dependent on prescription pain relievers in the past year grew to an estimated 336,000, up from 132,000 a decade earlier, according to survey data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
  • Among people 55 and older seeking substance abuse treatment from 2007-11, there was a 46% jump in the share of cases involving prescription narcotics, SAMHSA data show. Annual emergency room visits by people 65 and over for misuse of pharmaceuticals climbed more than 50% during that time, to more than 94,000 a year. And the rate of overdose deaths among people 55 and older, regardless of drug type, nearly tripled from 1999-2010, to 9.4 fatalities per 100,000 people, based on data from by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The addiction problem in the senior population isn’t just relegated to prescription medications. According to statistics provided by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCAAD), four out of five seniors who seek treatment for substance abuse have problems with alcohol in comparison to other drugs. Additionally, 9 percent of Medicare beneficiaries over the age of 65 drink more than 30 drinks a month and more than 4 drinks in any one occasion.

Reasons Why Seniors Abuse Substances

prescription pills

When substance abuse and addiction develops in senior citizens, it happens due to a variety of reasons. For some, the abuse of substances is merely a continuation of addictive patterns that developed years earlier. Addiction to drugs and alcohol  can also develop as a form of trying to cope with the stresses that come with the aging process. Some other factors that can increase the risks of developing an addiction to substances can include the following:

  • Living alone–especially after the death of a spouse or loved one.
  • Family history of substance abuse
  • The emergence of mental health issues later in life, or trying to cope with undiagnosed mental illness
  • Coping with chronic pain
  • Boredom

What are the Signs and Symptoms That Substance Abuse Is Occurring?

Trying to determine substance abuse in senior citizens can be difficult since some signs and symptoms are consistent with the normal aging process. Additionally, these signs and symptoms can also be indicators of other diseases that may be present. Nevertheless, these following symptoms can indicate the potential for substance abuse:

  • Sleep problems, fatigue, memory loss or extreme mood swings
  • The development of chronic health problems
  • An increase in accidents or falls
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or other social activities
  • Neglect of personal hygiene, appearance or weight loss
  • Unsteady gait and unexplained bruises
  • Slurring words, defensiveness or increased stress

However, there are some specific signs that an elderly loved one is struggling with drug abuse and addiction. These can include the following:

  • You discover illegal drugs or find drug paraphernalia
  • They clearly are under the influence of substances
  • Complaining about doctors who refuse to write prescriptions for preferred addictive drugs
  • Increased use of illegal drugs or taking more pills than prescribed
  • Intentionally abusing drugs with the intent to hurt or harm themselves
  • Mixing medications or drinking alcohol with medications
  • Engaging in doctor shopping for additional prescriptions of addictive drugs
  • Not telling their doctor of all the prescriptions or illegal drugs they may be taking

What Do I Do If My Grandma is Abusing Drugs?

Grandma is Addicted

If your grandmother or another elderly loved one is abusing drugs and alcohol, you need to be proactive and keep the following tips in mind:

  • Make sure you know what medications your parents are taking, and why.
  • Check that they’re following the prescribed dosage.
  • Encourage your parent to use painkillers and sedatives only when absolutely necessary, and to taper off as soon as they can.
  • Control access to the medications.
  • If you suspect addiction, consult with the physician who is prescribing the medication.

You also want to look into treatment facilities that have drug treatment programs for seniors. Because of the increased health and mental issues that accompany older age, more traditional drug treatment facilities may not be effective in helping seniors break the cycle of addiction in their lives. The programming they offer needs to be effective, proven to work and its effectiveness must be supported by research conducted by firms or agencies outside of the treatment facility you are considering. Many insurance plans will be able to cover the cost of treatment.

Help Your Elderly Loved Ones Battle Their Addiction

Your grandmother, grandfather and other elderly loved ones took care of you–now it is time to help them live a healthy and happy life in their golden years. If your grandparent is struggling with addiction, turn to Ocean Breeze Recovery Center. We offer a wide range of programs that suits any kind of addict. By offering a multitude of traditional and holistic treatment approaches, we are able to tailor an individual treatment plan that will best suit your grandparents (or anyone’s) specific needs.

Call Ocean Breeze Recovery Center today.

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