Skip to Content
Home > Wellness > Health Library > Substance Abuse in Older Adults
Many people think
alcohol and drug abuse happen only to teens and
younger adults. But all ages can have problems with drugs and alcohol,
including older adults.
Older adults may use illegal drugs, use prescription or
over-the-counter medicines in harmful ways, drink too much alcohol, or mix
alcohol and medicines. Doing any of these can cause serious health problems and
problems with money and the law. It also can harm relationships with family and
Substance abuse in older adults may be overlooked, because:
Alcohol abuse is dangerous for all people, and it can be very
dangerous for older adults. Older adults:1
In older adults, alcohol can trigger some health problems or make
them worse. These health problems include
high blood pressure,
ulcers, liver disease,
anxiety, sleep problems, and depression.1
Experts suggest that adults 65 and older have:1
Some older adults should not drink alcohol. Women who are small may
want to ask their doctors what amount of alcohol is safe for them.
Older adults often have to take many medicines. This can easily
lead to misuse or abuse of medicines. You misuse or abuse medicine when:
Below are some of the warning signs of alcohol or drug abuse in
older adults. Signs can include changes in your behavior as well as changes in
your mental abilities.
If you notice any of these signs in yourself or someone you care
about, talk to your doctor. Tell your doctor about the drinking or medicine
use, including over-the-counter medicines, herbs, and dietary supplements. Tell
your doctor about any alcohol or drug use in the past.
Changes in behavior
You may have a drug or alcohol problem if:
Changes in mental abilities
Here are some mental signs of drug or alcohol abuse:
If you have any of these signs, it may not mean you have a drug or
alcohol problem. Many of the signs listed here also can be signs of health
problems many older adults have. Changes in behavior also could be signs of
Drinking or abusing medicine or drugs often starts after a big
change in your life. Retiring, the death of a spouse or good friend, leaving
your home, and being diagnosed with a disease all can trigger substance abuse.
If a life-changing event happens to you or a loved one, watch for signs of drug
or alcohol abuse.
Treatment for alcohol or drug abuse in older adults is the same
treatment as for younger people.
Detoxification, medicine, counseling, therapy, and
12-step programs all may be used.
If medicine misuse or abuse is the problem, sometimes talking to a
doctor, friend, or family member about the problem can help. Treatment could be
as simple as learning more about your medicines and organizing how you take
them. You may be able to work with your doctor to cut back on how many
medicines you take or make it easier to take them.
Your success in treatment is strongly linked to admitting that you
have a problem and to your desire to stop misusing or abusing alcohol or drugs.
Department of Health and Human Services (2008). Substance abuse among older adults. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP), Series 26 (DHHS Publication No. SMA 08-3918). Available online: http://store.samhsa.gov/product/TIP-26-Substance-Abuse-Among-Older-Adults/SMA08-3918.
January 18, 2012
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Peter Monti, PhD - Alcohol and Addiction
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.
To learn more visit Healthwise.org
© 1995-2014 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Our interactive Decision Points guide you through making key health decisions by combining medical information with your personal information.
You'll find Decision Points to help you answer questions about:
Get started learning more about your health!
Our Interactive Tools can help you make smart decisions for a healthier life. You'll find personal calculators and tools for health and fitness, lifestyle checkups, and pregnancy.
Feeling under the weather?
Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.
Genesis HealthCare System | 1-800-322-4762