Signs of Addiction in the Elderly


drug abuse or addiction in elderyFor many of us, we don’t typically think about grandma or grandpa when we think about drug abuse or addiction. But, the truth is, substance abuse is increasing significantly among our older population—especially as the baby boomer generation enters the senior facet of our society.

It is predicted that by the year 2020, the number of people needing treatment for drug abuse and/or addiction will double among those aged 50 or older. And, this isn’t just about illegal substance abuse. Prescription drug abuse is also prevalent. That’s easier to imagine when you realize that people 65 or older make up 13% of our population, but they account for nearly 30% of all medications prescribed in our country.  Put another way, it is anticipated that the number of older adults abusing prescription medications could increase to nearly 3 million people in less than 10 years.

Of course, we don’t encourage people to look for things to worry about, but these statistics do tell us that we should be aware of the potential for drug abuse among our elderly loved ones and be able to recognize the signs. After all, that’s the first step to helping them.

So, what are the signs?

Before we talk about possible signs of addiction there are two things you should always keep in mind:

  • Some of the signs can also be seen as a normal part of aging OR as a result of other diseases. If you are seeing these signs, don’t jump to a conclusion of addiction; rather consider it as one possibility to explore—without instantly ruling out other possibilities.
  • It’s also important to look at these signs in the context of the whole person, meaning: did these signs arise suddenly and/or is there a change or event happening in this person’s life that could also cause these symptoms to arise? Also, could the signs be a continuation of patterns seen earlier in the person’s life?

Here is a list of general signs of addiction:

  • Changes in sleep patterns, particularly problems sleeping and sleeping at odd times.
  • General fatigue.
  • Changes in appetite.
  • Memory loss or confusion.
  • Moodiness and/or depression.
  • Chronic ailments.
  • Unusual or unexplained signs of accidents or falls.
  • Loss of motivation or interest in hobbies.
  • Unhealthy change in appearance/lack of hygiene/weight loss.
  • Unsteadiness when walking or moving.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Unusual or heightened defensiveness or paranoia.
  • Becoming more reclusive or losing interest in socializing.
  • More frequent expression of stress.

Again, many of these can often be signs of other illnesses too, so take note of them and:

  1. Look for other signs that might help confirm addiction.
  2. Research additional symptoms that would indicate a different illness.

 What are the specific signs of drug abuse or addiction?

If you observe the general signs of addiction, there are some very specific signs that would help confirm an addiction. These are signs that are less likely to be viewed in association with normal aging processes or other illnesses:

  • The presence of illegal drugs or paraphernalia in the person’s home or personal space.
  • Frequent and clear indication of drunkenness or being “high.”
  • Mixing medication with alcohol or other medications, regardless of warnings not to do so.
  • Complaining about doctors who won’t write prescriptions.
  • Changing or adding doctors to find one who will prescribe additional addictive medications.
  • Not disclosing all prescribed medications to doctors and caregivers.
  • Self-medicating or self-regulating intake of drugs, despite doctor/caregiver recommendations.
  • Demonstrating intentional drug or alcohol abuse with the intent to cause harm to oneself.

Hopefully, this will help you become more aware of signs of addiction in your elderly loved one. If you do observe these signs, take the time to talk to professionals about what you are seeing and they can help you make an informed decision about what to do next. We’ll talk more about that in our next post!


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