Substance Abuse

There are many reasons elderly people may turn to alcohol or drugs in later life. Children grow up and leave home. It becomes necessary to give up a job or move to a smaller home. Friends grow fewer and farther apart. Physical health fails. A partner of many years gets ill or dies. The very real difficulties of aging can easily pile up and impel seniors toward alcohol or drugs. 

Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse

Some people have been heavy drinkers for many years. But, over time, the same amount of alcohol packs a more powerful punch. Other people develop a drinking problem later in life. Sometimes this is a result of major life changes like death of dear friends or a loved one, moving to a new home, or failing health. These kinds of changes can cause loneliness, boredom, anxiety, or depression. In fact, depression in older adults often goes along with drinking too much.

     Facts About Aging and Alcohol: Information from the National Institute on Aging

     When Does Drinking Become a Problem?: Information from the National Institute on Aging

     Rethinking Drinking: Alcohol and Your Health Resource from the National Institute on Alcohol

     Alcohol Use and Cancer: Information from the American Cancer Society

     MedlinePlus Alcohol Dependence: Information from the National Library of Medicine

Prescription Drug Abuse

Most drugs and other chemical substances are helpful when used properly. Unfortunately, the misuse of medications and drugs—both legal and illegal—is a growing problem in the older population. The terms “drug abuse” or “substance abuse” is defined as the use of chemical substances that lead to an increased risk of problems and an inability to control the use of the substance.

More than 80% of older patients—aged 57 to 85 years—use at least one prescription medication on a daily basis, with more than 50% taking more than five medications or supplements daily. This can potentially lead to health issues resulting from unintentionally using a prescription medication in a manner other than how it was prescribed, or from intentional nonmedical use.

     MedlinePlus Prescription Drug Abuse: Information from the National Library of Medicine

     MedlinePlus Safe Opioid Use: Information from the National Library of Medicine

     MedlinePlus Opioid Abuse and Addiction: Information from the National Library of Medicine

     Drug and Substance Abuse Basic Facts & Information: Information from HealthinAging.org

     Prescription Drug Abuse in the Elderly: Information from the American Academy of Family Physicians

     What to Ask Your Doctor Before Taking Opioids: A Checklist from the FDA