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Recognizing Prescription Drug Abuse in Seniors

elderly drug abuse

Prescription drug addiction is a problem among the senior population.

Prescription drug abuse is a growing concern across all walks of life and among every age group. The consequences for seniors, however, can be far more devastating due to their health and vulnerability. As these individuals get older, they are more likely to be exposed to prescription medications and like other prescription drug users, succumb to tolerance, dependency and ultimately, addiction.

About Prescription Drug Abuse

Despite controversy, many people abuse prescription drugs due to developmental changes within their brains and not because they lack willpower or ability to control their behaviors. They may increase the dose, or take the drugs more frequently to relieve unpleasant or unwanted symptoms and these repeat changes are what lead to compulsive behaviors to use more. Dependency results in withdrawal symptoms that range in severity and often are the compelling factor causing many to continue the abuse.

Prescription Drug Abuse in Seniors

According to a published study by the National Institutes of Health, “it is estimated that the number of adults of this age in need of substance abuse treatment will increase from 1.7 million in 2000 and 2001 to 4.4 million in 2020”. Seniors who are exposed to prescription drugs may be likely to misuse or abuse them because:

  • They are susceptible to more episodes of pain and the emotional stress that comes with it.
  • They are often prescribed an assortment of drugs for various purposes.
  • Seniors are more vulnerable to physical and psychological effects from the drugs, due to cognitive decline or other physical impairments that affect their ability to metabolize the drugs.
  • Memory impairments may lead them to use more than intended.
  • Other drugs they are prescribed may cause reactions for which they try to overcompensate for.
  • Their lack of experience and judgment regarding the side effects of prescription drugs makes them vulnerable to their use and abuse and safety becomes a grave concern.
  • They may live on a fixed income and share their medications in order to save money.

Recognizing Prescription Drug Abuse in Seniors

Like other prescription drug abusers, seniors present various signs when abusing prescriptions drugs such as:

  • Intentionally using prescription drugs frequently or in greater amounts than prescribed.
  • Tolerance – using increasingly higher amounts to achieve a desired effect.
  • Using someone else’s prescription drugs or using them recreationally.
  • Using prescription drugs in alternative ways such as snorting or injecting.
  • Physical deteriorations, impairments, or adverse changes including weight loss, impaired cognitive or motor functioning, lack of hygiene, neglect of health, excessive sleeping, or insomnia.
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once important or fun to them.
  • Increased anxiety or obsession over their next dose.
  • Increased mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, irritability, agitation, inability to order thoughts or focus, excessive memory loss, hyperactivity, violent outbursts and other aggressive, irrational, or uncontrollable behaviors.
  • Overdose

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