The Quiet Epidemic of Senior Drug Abuse


Senior Drug AbuseThe elderly may be the last population you’d imagine would have issues with drugs and alcohol. Think again. New data shows the number of seniors with drug problems are on the rise. But the causes are complex and the solutions aren’t easy. Get educated about the scale and nature of senior drug abuse and misuse, signs of dependence and addiction in older loved ones, and how to get help for an older loved one with a drug problem.

The Increasing Prevalence of Drug Problems among Seniors

The precise rate of seniors and elderly people with drug problems is difficult to assess. One reason is that “many of the signs and symptoms of misuse and abuse mirror common signs of aging in general” as Belinda Basca notes in an article for the periodical Prevention Tactics. Recently released statistics present clear hints at a growing epidemic of drug abuse.

According to the Prevention Tactics report, “prescription drug abuse is present in 12 to 15% of elderly individuals who seek medical attention. What’s more, a document from the Johns Hopkins Medical School notes that the number of Americans over age 50 abusing prescription drugs is projected to rise to 2.7 million in 2020 — a 190% increase from the 2001 figure of 910,000.

Drinking Problems and Seniors

Alcohol abuse and alcoholism are other major issues among seniors. A study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that “more than a third of drinkers 60 years old and older consume amounts of alcohol that are excessive or that are potentially harmful in combination with certain disease they have or medications they are taking.” Alcohol abuse and addiction can be just as dangerous and destructive as drug addiction, so don’t turn a blind eye to an older loved one’s alcohol problem.

Misuse vs. Abuse

It’s worth making a distinction between drug misuse, which is common among seniors, and drug abuse which is less prevalent among the older population.

The majority of seniors who become dependent on prescription drugs are being treated for legitimate medical issues such as pain, anxiety, depression or insomnia. They may increase their dose against medical advice in order to seek greater relief from their condition. This is drug misuse.

Drug abuse is less common among seniors, but is a big issue none-the-less. As one article puts it, abuse involves the “repetitive and willful habit of taking drugs for the purpose of pleasure, ecstasy and euphoria but does not include the repeated use of drugs for therapeutic purposes.”

This distinction is important. Seniors who are misusing medications for therapeutic purposes may be doing so because their current treatment plan simply isn’t effective in addressing their symptoms.  Misuse or overuse can be controlled if physicians reevaluate treatment options so that patients don’t rely on more medication than prescribed in order to get full relief.

Drug abuse on the other hand can be more difficult to get under control, and may require drug treatment.

Dependence vs. Addiction

Just as there is a distinction between misuse and abuse, there is a distinction between dependence and addiction. Many medications are physically addictive, such as opioid painkillers like Vicodin or Percocet. Sedative, anti-anxiety, and insomnia drugs like Xanax and Valium can also cause physical dependence when taken daily, even at prescribed doses. Even without any misuse or abuse, a patient who is physically dependent will experience uncomfortable drug withdrawal symptoms if they abruptly stop taking the medication. If a patient stops medication that they are dependent on, their doctor will often prescribe gradually decreasing doses (a “taper”) to reduce discomfort.

Addiction is more often the result of drug abuse. Addicts, seniors and otherwise, are usually not only physically dependent on the drug or drugs they are taking, but also take them clearly compulsive and harmful way. As the National Institute on Drug Abuse “compulsive drug use despite harmful consequences—is characterized by an inability to stop using a drug; and failure to meet work, social, or family obligations.”

Drugs of Misuse Among Seniors

Prescription drug and misuse and abuse and alcoholism are much more of an issue for seniors than abuse of hard street drugs like heroin or cocaine. Being aware of the primary classes of medicines that lead to dependence or addiction can be helpful:

Opioids: Opioids are used to treat pain. Common opioids include oxycodone (the active ingredient in Percocet and Oxycontin), hydrocodone (the active ingredient in Vicodin and Norco) and numerous other related medicines such as morphine, codeine, hydromorphone and fentanyl. Opioids are a vital tool for pain management, but carry clear risks of dependence and addiction. The number of fatal opioid over doses has risen dramatically over the last decade.

Benzodiazepines: Benzodiazepines are a class of medicines primarily used to treat anxiety, panic disorders, insomnia — and can also be used to treat bipolar disorder and even epilepsy. Common benzodiazepines include diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), lorazepam (Ativan) and clonazepam (Klonopin). This class of medications can be highly habit forming, dangerous when mixed with other sedatives, and abrupt withdrawal can lead to seizures and other major medical issues.

Alcohol: Alcohol is undoubtedly a drug, but because it’s considered socially acceptable, seniors with alcohol problems can fly under the radar. Alcohol abuse can lead to dementia, liver failure, and other serious and potentially lethal health problems and should not be ignored. What’s more, alcohol affects seniors more strongly than younger people, so seniors should be particularly prudent with alcohol.

Stimulants: Stimulant such as Ritalin or Adderall are often prescribed to younger people for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and sometimes prescribed to older adults for disorders such as narcolepsy and obesity. Stimulants can be habit forming and stimulant abuse can be highly injurious to health, particularly among seniors.

Signs of Drug Problems

Here are some signs that can indicate that your older loved one may have a substance abuse problem:

  • Appearing over sedated, disoriented or impaired
  • Poor balance or unsteady gait
  • Requesting early refills
  • Reporting that their medications have been lost or stolen (particularly if this occurs more than once)
  • Poor hygiene or disheveled appearance
  • Appetite changes
  • Mood swings or major personality changes
  • Increased isolation
  • Demanding narcotic drugs at visit to the doctor
  • Apparent doctor shopping

It’s important to note that any of these signs and symptoms could be due to reasons besides drug problems, but they are definitely cause to investigate further.

Help for an Older Loved One with a Drug Problem

If you believe an elderly loved one may have a drug problem you should intervene. One option is alerting your loved one’s physician about your concerns.  The right type of treatment will vary as well as the individual and the circumstances. A hopeful trend is the emergence of drug treatment programs especially for seniors, which was born out of the recognition that there are differences in the drug treatment strategies that are effective for seniors as compared to younger people.

Have you had experience with senior substance abuse? Share your story with us in the comments below.

Related Articles:

The Quiet Epidemic of Senior Drug Abuse posted by Jeff Anderson

About the Author

Jeff Anderson attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks on an academic scholarship and also studied creative writing at University of Hull’s Scarborough Campus (UK). Jeff found his professional calling in 2009 when he began working with seniors and their families at A Place for Mom. His passion for helping seniors and his fondness for the written word are evident in his articles about issues affecting older adults and their families. Jeff also writes and records music under the moniker Mysterious Inventors. Additionally he’s an avid chess player and a proud parent.| Jeff Anderson’s Google+ Profile

Living Alone? You Need To Know These Simple Things

Bay Alarm Medical

September 14, 2017

Living Alone? You Need To Know These Simple Things

While many people enjoy the solitude of living alone, others, who unexpectedly find themselves in an empty home, can face a difficult transition period. Aside from simply missing the company of another human being, living alone means you don’t have another person to help with certain chores.

Tasks that you used to do with another person, such as folding bed sheets, you now have to tackle on your own. This can be a particularly tough challenge for older individuals who may not have the strength to complete certain routine tasks. For example, routine tasks such as carrying out the trash or dusting high places can be an extreme challenge for some older adults.

Surviving alone takes a lot of independence, but it also takes some ingenuity. Being able to solve problems on your own and overcome the challenges that come with living alone is crucial.

To help with some of the obstacles of living alone, here is a list of 10 helpful survival tips. Many of these tricks require very little energy or effort, yet they can make your solo life worlds better and even keep you safe.

Your Dishwasher Can Wash More Than Dirty Dishes

A dishwasher is a big help when it comes time to clean up after a meal, but it can also be a huge help in other aspects of cleaning.

Rather than climbing up on a ladder or chair to clean your fan blades, you can just remove them and wash them in the dishwasher. They’ll come out cleaner, and you won’t be risking a bad fall. Most hard plastics are entirely fine to wash in the dishwasher.

Other handy things to clean in a dishwasher include lamp shades, broom and mop heads, dust pans, gardening tools, pet toys, plastic combs/brushes, sink sponges and many more items that would otherwise be hard to clean.


By giving your dishwasher this double duty, you’ll have a much cleaner home, and you won’t spend a ton of time keeping it clean.

Use Peppermint Oil To Ward Off Mice

Musophobia (the fear of mice and rodents) is one of the more common phobias out there. Not everyone can handle trapping and removing mice from his/her home.

If you’re one of these people, there’s a very inexpensive fix that doesn’t force you to interact with the mice at all: peppermint oil. Mice hate this stuff and will steer clear of it. By mixing some peppermint oil with water in a spray bottle, you can give a quick spritz to any area with mice activity.

You never have to remove the mice yourself; they’ll get one whiff of the peppermint and move on. Plus, it is a very humane way of dealing with a small mice problem (if you have a large infestation, you may want to seek out more extreme measures of removing the mice).

Peppermint oil has a lot of uses. Even when the mice leave, you can still find ways to use it. Peppermint oil can be found at many pharmacies and large box stores. You can also buy it online.

Open Stubborn Jars With A Rubber Kitchen Glove

Nothing is worse than a jar that you just cannot open. Even after banging it on the side of a counter, turning it until your face turns red and soaking it in warm water, you still cannot get it to open.

There are tons of products out there that are designed specifically for opening stubborn jars. One easy trick, which doesn’t require you buying some As Seen On TV product, is to use a rubber glove. You probably already have a pair under your sink, and the rubber of the glove will give your hand much better traction and grip on the lid.


Another trick is to put one rubber band around the lid and another around the jar, wherever your hand is going to hold it. The concept is the same, the rubber of the bands helps provide much-needed traction, and you can pop the lid quickly.

Use Windex To Move Heavy Furniture And Appliances

Moving heavy furniture and appliances is typically a two-person job, no matter what age you are. But, for older individuals, the challenge of moving something heavy on your own is much more difficult.

Luckily, there is a solution. By spraying Windex at the feet of an appliance and in a track of where you’re moving it, the item will slide with ease. Thus, you won’t have to strain yourself pushing and pulling it. Plus, it should protect some floors from marks, as you move the furniture.

Scotch Tape, Safety Pins, and String Are Your Friend For Dressing Up

“Can you zip me up?” A small request for a quick and easy task, if there’s another person around. When you are living alone, however, even getting dressed and wearing certain garments or jewelry can be a minor annoyance.


There are a few small things you can do to make life a little easier when you are trying to dress up for a night out. A string and a safety pin attached to the zipper of a dress makes it a breeze to zip up while using scotch tape on your wrist to hold a bracelet in place while you secure it means you can accessorize with one hand!

Put Your Mind At Ease With An Alarm System

When others are around, you don’t feel vulnerable and alone. You have someone else around to put your mind at ease when you feel uncomfortable or insecure. That isn’t the case when you are living alone.

Maintaining a sense of security can be hard, especially if you have an active mind that often creates added fear or anxiety. A medical alert system may seem like a significant, unnecessary investment, but the cost of having a mind that feels secure and at ease is priceless.

Plus, many modern systems are extra affordable. You shouldn’t be afraid of living alone or have your mind racing at every small bump in the night.

Invest in a Silicone Microwave Lid

Transitioning into living alone means adjusting how much you spend on groceries and how much food to cook and prepare. You’re probably used to feeding others (or being fed by someone), but now you are just cooking for yourself.

This might mean you need to take some rudimentary cooking lessons and it means getting used to eating leftovers and reheating food in a microwave more often. Reheating rice, pasta and other similar dishes can be a real pain in the microwave.

There are some tips and tricks associated with microwaving food and an even greater number of gadgets, but the only one you need is a silicone microwave lid. This product traps in steam and heat to provide a more thorough cook. No more cold spots or mushy leftovers.

Budget and Shopping For One

Aside from adjusting how much you need to cook, you also have to learn how to manage your finances. The good news is that budgeting for one is a lot easier than learning how to budget and spend with a significant other or a roommate.

Nonetheless, it may take some getting used to, as you no longer have someone to split costs with and have to buy everything on your own. Groceries are going to be one of the areas that take a lot of adapting. You have to transition to buying smaller quantities, instead of in bulk. This is also going to be your biggest area of savings, which you’ll probably need to cover your payments and utilities.

In any scenario, budgeting takes some careful planning and smart innovating. You should track all of your spendings. Then, once you have a good amount of data, you can begin to see where you are spending money, how much you need each month and where spending can be cut.

Schedule A Daily Phone Call Or “Check In”

This tip serves two purposes. First, regular communication is important because for your mental health. Just because you live alone doesn’t mean you have to live without social interactions. People often underestimate how impactful a little chatting can be; a daily phone call can help in lifting your spirits up to get through the rest of the day or give you an ear to complain to and get some things off your mind to de-stress.

For retired individuals, this daily call can also be a lifesaver, if you’ve fallen and didn’t have a way to notify anyone. Your loved one will be expecting the call, and when it doesn’t come, they will know you are in trouble and send help.

Get To Know Your Neighbors

One of the best resources you can have when living alone are the people living around you. Not everyone likes meeting neighbors, and there are certainly neighbors you should avoid, but don’t let a little social awkwardness deter you from establishing connections in your neighborhood.

Not only are these valuable sources of social interactions, but you never know whom you might be living next to. You may come to find out that your next door neighbor is a handyman or a plumber, which is valuable knowledge if you have repairs or plumbing issues. Also, you may be able to call upon them to help with some tasks that are simply too difficult to do alone.

Final Advice

The last thing you need to remember to survive living alone is to have fun. Sure, it can be a scary, hectic transition that makes you have to alter your lifestyle and how you spend your money and live your life.

However, it’s also an excellent opportunity to learn things about yourself that you didn’t already know, explore new things and do things in your way. You no longer have to worry about the needs of another, so make bold decorating choices. Start a new hobby that takes up way too much space. Be messy for a week. Budget for the vacations and things that you want. Entertain guests and dazzle them with your newfound cooking skills.

There’s so much potential growth to be experienced from living alone, so shed the fear and anxiety and enjoy it!

Living Alone? You Need To Know These Simple Things

Tuesday November 21st

Just a reminder that we are meeting next Tuesday morning at 8:30 a.m. and the first order of business that day will be to elect 2017-2019 NOCSC Board Members.  I erroneously sent out a “Board Members Roles and Responsibilities” list earlier this week and I need to apologize and re-tract that document since it was a draft-only and never voted on, and actually goes against our current set of bylaws in several places.  Please disregard that document.  Again, we are still looking for at least one more candidate for the NOCSC Board, so if you are interested in applying or if you have a candidate that you would like to nominate, please feel free to do so.  Have a great weekend and I look forward to seeing you on Tuesday morning from 8:30 – 10:00 a.m., here at 130 W. Bastanchury Road, Fullerton ~ please feel free to park in the parking structure and I’ll happily validate your parking ticket!


Seniors and Grief: Coping With Loss During The Holidays

Many seniors feel they have to pretend all is well during the holidays for the sake of others. But it’s important to set aside time to grieve, ask for help if you need it, and forego traditions that are just too hard since your loved one passed.

PUBLISHED: Feb 25, 2014

If you or someone you know is facing the first holiday season without a loved one such as a spouse or lifelong friend, it may be a challenge to handle reminders of the holidays, including family traditions, shopping, events or decorating. Some may feel depressed and wish the holidays would pass by as quickly as possible. The important thing to realize is that no matter how long you’ve been grieving for a loved one–a short time or many years–for most people, the holidays typically bring grief back to the surface. And with grief questions surface:

  • Should I act like everything is okay so the rest of the family can enjoy the holidays?
  • Is it all right for me to skip traditions if they seem too hard to handle?
  • Should I make major changes to my typical holiday rituals?

There are no easy, clear-cut answers to any of these questions – it depends on the factors surrounding each situation. What is a coping mechanism for one person will be ineffective for another.

Grief can be overwhelming. It’s easy to get paralyzed and stuck in it. But reaching out and learning how to find the strength and support can help a person take charge of the grief, and that will go a long way toward making the holidays after the loss of a loved one a bit more bearable. Here are a few ways to begin:

Accept that your pain will be triggered

From music to decorations, to shoppers crowding stores to holiday advertisements, the holidays are all around us. Some people find that simply accepting the fact that the holiday season will be hard and painful provides more strength to cope. If someone close died recently, it’s okay to lower expectations of the holiday season. One cannot expect to feel the way he or she once did, and should not feel guilty because of it.

Prepare and plan ahead

Thinking ahead and anticipating activities allow people the opportunity to structure time in such a way that mitigates the temptation to overdo things, or get caught up in others’ expectations and regret it later. If it’s too painful to participate in certain holiday activities, make that known ahead of time. Consider doing something altogether different when it comes to dinners, church services or other activities. Planning a daily calendar a week in advance might help a person feel less lost without a loved one, and will help prevent getting ‘stuck’ in grief. Lighten the load if plans become too much.

Ask for support and help

Getting enough support during the holidays means reaching out to others who may be experiencing or have experienced the same thing, as well as asking for assistance with holiday preparations. Research support groups in your area. Most people find grief lessens when they realize others feel the exact same way. For others counseling sessions work well. Even online support groups are places you can find ideas on how to cope. Though it is important to set aside time to grieve, don’t become isolated, especially during the holidays.

What about holiday traditions?

Knowing what to do about family traditions is one of the hardest things people face after the death of a loved one. Don’t be afraid to tell family members that certain traditions will be too hard. Plan to do only what is special and meaningful to you. Most people experiencing grief during the holidays do find creating some new tradition to honor a loved one helps.

Ask visitors and other family members to write a journal about the memories of a loved one. Establish a special place in your home that conjures happy memories, such as hanging a stocking for a departed loved one, and asking others to fill it with notes of fond memories and good wishes.

Try not to compare a holiday experience with others. It’s easy to stand back and think everyone is feeling happy. The holidays are stressful for everyone and are never as magical as we sometimes perceive. The goal is to do whatever feels best. Experts also say it’s normal for it to take several years to identify those traditions to keep and those that are no longer a part of your life, so focus on just this holiday season for now.

Here are some new traditions you can start in memory of your loved one:

  • Donate to a cause he or she was passionate about.
  • Find a local organization that needs help and donate time, food or toys.
  • Plant a tree in memory of your loved one.

What if I feel numb or even apathetic during the holiday?

Experts on grief typically stress that everyone grieves in his/her own way, and it’s okay to accept and respect whatever feelings an individual may have. Many people feel numb and even disoriented when they are grieving, but it’s all right and not unusual. Rely on a support system of close and important people.

Here are some additional ways to help ease grief during the holiday season:

  • Plan healthy meals, time for exercise and drink plenty of water.
  • Do not stifle emotions. Set aside time to experience sadness and anger. Journaling thoughts and feelings can help ease grief. Be truthful about your feelings when asked.
  • Be informed before events. Ask who will be attending and what activities are planned.