Friday, February 5, 2021

Substance Abuse in Senior Citizens - Are You Abusing Drugs or Alcohol?

A couple of years ago, I was in the local grocery store when the man in line ahead of me put a case of beer, several bottles of wine, a couple of bottles of hard liquor and a variety of mixers on the conveyor belt, along with an assortment of snacks.  The friendly checker smiled at him and asked, "Are you having a party?"  The man replied, indignantly, "No, this will last me all week."  The checker looked at me in disbelief.

Of course, not all senior citizens are drinking at home. I have also noticed is the popularity of the golf course bar in our retirement community.  The first night it opened, a man crashed his golf cart into a tree a few minutes after leaving.  He survived, and the story was relayed in a humorous way, but drunk driving, even in golf carts, is a serious problem for senior citizens who may already have vision and other health issues which can impair their driving. In addition, many seniors are taking medications which can increase the enhance the effects of alcohol or recreational drugs, such as marijuana.

While sometimes the signs of substance abuse in senior citizens can be obvious, in other cases it can be well concealed.  It is one reason why some senior citizens do not want to go to a hospital or stay in a skilled nursing facility, even temporarily while healing from surgery.  They are often concerned that they will not be able to freely use the drugs or alcohol they have become dependent upon.  In other cases, they intentionally search out some of the popular assisted living communities which now have elegant bars and frequent "happy hours."

As a result, I was extremely interested when WebMD emailed me a slide show titled "How to Spot Substance Abuse in Older Adults."  They were sharing this information because they were concerned that more older Americans are abusing drugs and alcohol than in the past.  In fact, according to the statistics they released, 5.7 million Americans over the age of 50 had substance abuse problems in 2020, and that is more than twice the number who had these problems in 2006.  Below is a summary of the information provided by WebMD.

If you are concerned about drug abuse or alcoholism in yourself or a family member, it may be helpful to read some substance abuse books. (Ad)  They can show you how to get started on the path to recovery, while learning more about the subject in the privacy of your home.

Spotting Substance Abuse in Older Americans

1.  Stress and anxiety in the later years may contribute to dependence on drugs and alcohol. The stress could be caused by retirement, the loss of people we care about, loneliness, sleep problems, family conflicts and financial concerns. Although not mentioned by WebMD, I have observed that some people begin to abuse chemicals as a way to cope with health problems.  They may be "self-medicating" themselves for arthritis stiffness, back pain, depression, or similar problems.  The article also mentioned that Baby Boomers became adults during a time of relaxed views about alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs, and they continue to hold those views today.

2.  Men are more likely to overuse alcohol, and women are more likely to become dependent on prescription drugs.  You are more likely to have a substance abuse problem if you are white, have a higher income, live alone, lost your spouse, retired unexpectedly, suffer from chronic pain, or you are disabled. In addition, people with a past history of either addiction or mental illness are also more likely to have a substance abuse problem late in life.

3.  Substance abuse problems may be mistaken for normal aging issues.  For example, if the person has problems with their balance, memory, or social skills, it could be assumed they are having age related problems, not alcoholism or drug addiction.  Since they are retired and no longer have to show up daily for a job, it can be easy to hide what is going on.  Even when relatives notice the heavy drinking, they may shrug it off, believing that the substance abuse isn't hurting anyone, or it is making the person happy.

4.  Signs of substance abuse vary widely, and may be hard to spot, because the person could become more reclusive or secretive about it.  Some signs to watch for include slurred speech, unexplained injuries and bruises, memory loss, confusion, mood swings, complaints about sleep problems, anxiety, depression, loss of interest in their favorite activities, poor hygiene and isolation from family and friends.  Of course, many of these issues can be caused by other diseases such as dementia, Parkinson's, or common medical treatments such as blood thinners and cancer treatments.  It can be difficult for families to sort out what is actually going on.

5. Alcohol affects people more strongly as they age.  Seniors may get drunk on much less than they used in the past. In addition, alcohol interacts with medications people commonly take for illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure, dementia and depression.  Most people who drink should limit themselves to no more than one small drink a day; less is better.

6.  Prescription drugs can have dangerous interactions.  If your doctor recommends a new prescription to you, make sure you review it with both your physician and pharmacist.  If you do not improve, seem to feel worse, or develop new symptoms after adding a prescription, make sure you re-check with your doctor and pharmacist.  Always read about drug interactions, especially if you are also taking nutritional supplements, over-the-counter medications, or herbal remedies.  Some of them can have dangerous consequences when combined with prescription drugs.

7. Marijuana is being used more often by older Americans.  Some seniors are even growing their own marijuana on patios and in gardens in their back yard.  As many as one in twenty seniors may be using some form of cannabis. Here in our California retirement community, local marijuana dispensaries even advertise on television that they can help you choose the right product and deliver it to your home.  They make it very easy! It is important you discuss your use with your doctor and pharmacist, because marijuana can boost the effect of your prescription drugs, hurt your short-term memory (masquerading as dementia), and increase your blood pressure, heart rate, and heart attack risk 

8.  Illegal drugs, such as cocaine and heroin use is low, but it does exist in senior citizens. These heavy drugs can cause serious drug interactions and lead to falls, accidents and overdoses.  Most senior citizens do not handle these drugs very well.

9.  Substance abuse in senior citizens is serious, but it can be treated.  Depending on the specific issue, you should start by discussing the problem with your doctor.  There are medications which may help some problems. Other people may benefit from therapy, going through a detox program, and/or joining support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, where they can get the support of other people going through the same thing.  You may also find it helpful to read The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous (Ad) which explains how that program works and the story of the men who started it. If you join a support group, it may help you to find a meeting which has a few other older people who are dealing with the same issues.  The good news is that these treatments seem to be more effective in older people than young adults, so it is never too late to turn things around!

10.  Adult children and other relatives can help by encouraging the older members of their family to seek help for substance abuse problems.  If necessary, talk to their doctor, minister or family friends to solicit their assistance in getting help for a family member with substance abuse problems.  Family friends of the affected person may also find it helpful to join an Al-Anon Family Group in their community.  This is an organization designed to help the friends and family of alcoholics and drug abusers, so they learn how to better cope with the stress it causes them.

If you are worried about drug or alcohol abuse in another person, no matter what their age, you may find it helpful to read Alanon books and literature, which can make it easier for friends and family to cope with the stress of dealing with someone else's drinking or drug use. (Ad) Do not give up on your loved one.  There are interventions which can help them, and you, have a better life.

Are you interested in learning more about common medical problems as we age, Social Security, Medicare, where to retire, financial planning, and more?  Use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional helpful articles.

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1 comment:

  1. I have heard someone saying the very same thing that man did at the grocery check out but he was joking. If the man you wrote about was serious, that is very sad.

    ReplyDelete

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