Never Too Late To Quit: Elderly Prescription Drug Abuse

February 24, 2013

Healthy Life

Elderly Prescription Drug Abuse

Elderly Prescription Drug Abuse

The fastest growing national health problem is also the least noticed. Out of the 35 million Americans aged 65 and older, 17% have an addiction to prescription drugs or alcohol. This number is expected to double in the next seven years.

Seniors are now some of the most vulnerable to substance abuse because of extraordinary changes in society, medicine and lifestyle.

Especially Vulnerable

There are certain natural factors that make the elderly susceptible to addictive behavior.

Living Longer

With the average national lifespan reaching the late 70’s, seniors are able enjoy a full life longer than any generation in history. But, living longer also means a higher risk of depression. Older people with extended lives often outlive multiple friends and family members. This repeating of loss and sadness often leads to drug and alcohol use to numb the emotional pain.

Body Problems

Chronic pain and other medical problems are almost impossible to avoid as people age. Joint pain, insomnia and anxiety, which are all treated with drugs that carry addiction risk, are extremely common precursors to elderly substance abuse.

A Different Era

America’s seniors belong to a generation with a much more tolerant attitude towards excessive drinking. The science behind addiction was nowhere near as understood as it is now, and even when alcoholism was suspected it was rarely, if ever, addressed openly. Addiction in the past was considered a shameful personal flaw and kept many from getting proper treatment.

Effects of Nature

Often what drives seniors to substance abuse is simply their naturally changing body chemistry.


Nearly three out of every ten seniors take at least five medications regularly. But, levels of fluids and body fat, which almost all medications need to be absorbed, decline as people age. This means that chemicals in anxiety drugs and painkillers aren’t absorbed as well and stay in the body for less time, leading seniors to take more of them to get a better effect.


Around three million seniors are abusive drinkers. Mainly because of a natural loss of muscle mass, older bodies have much less water weight than younger ones (especially in women). Since alcohol is water-soluble, it takes a lot longer to metabolize in the elderly. When they get drunk, they stay drunk for much longer than they did when they were younger.

Warning Signs

There are many ways to spot addiction in substance abusers of any age. However, there are certain types of behavior that are especially common in seniors with dependence.


Pharmacy or doctor “hopping” is when patients visit multiple places to get or fill narcotic prescriptions. Physicians and pharmacists often don’t question elderly patients when giving them pain medications because they don’t fit the image of a “traditional” drug addict, and due to national privacy laws seniors are able to keep their various visits and filling records a secret. Hopping is not only dangerous because it feeds an unsafe habit, but it’s also illegal. Because of this, many pharmacies are now able to check a patient’s narcotic filling history throughout their state, not just their own records.

Changing Directions

Older people have a habit of claiming to “know their body” since they’ve lived in it for so long. This causes some elderly to either consume more drugs or alcohol than they should or consume it more often. Changing a doctor’s instructions or just ignoring them altogether leads to a stronger tolerance, which, in turn, can lead to overdosing.

The Good News

There are many concerns from family members and friends that their elderly loved ones in rehab have not been getting the balanced care they desperately need. Even though they’re addicted, a lot of seniors began their addiction because of actual medical conditions that still need treatment and may suffer not just from those problems but dangerous withdrawals as well.

Rehab programs that specialize in elderly care are developing along with the number of addicted seniors. They realize the special needs of older patients and have adapted their methods to accommodate them. These treatment centers are easily found online, and many offer guidance for convincing a reluctant senior to enter rehab.

About the Author: Hyrum Taffer is a freelance writer for with years of experience in drug addiction/recovery. Through much personal experience and research, Hyrum hopes others can benefit from his writing.


Never Too Late To Quit: Elderly Prescription Drug Abuse

This site is for information and support only and NOT a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment!
Drug Abuse

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