Person in bed, thinking about substance abuse in older adults

The Impact of Substance Abuse on Older Adults

Substance abuse can impact people at any stage of life. A growing problem has been substance abuse in older adults in recent years. Based on a recent National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) report, substance abuse rates in people aged 50 to 64 and those 65 and older are climbing. Many medical community members have begun referring to this increase as an “invisible epidemic.” Drug addiction is already hidden from much of the public. This is even more true of addiction in older people, especially in prescription-related and alcohol-related cases. Learn more about alcohol addiction treatment by contacting 717.969.9126.

Reasons for Substance Abuse in Older Adults

Growing old brings many transitions and changes with it. The reasons for substance abuse in the elderly are thus often linked to different things compared to why it occurs in younger adults. New sources of stress and anxiety can take a toll on people as they enter retirement age. Factors like retirement, loss of loved ones, loneliness, financial stress, and more can all influence drug use among older people.

Men 50 and older are at the highest risk of abusing alcohol. Meanwhile, women 50 and older are more likely to abuse prescriptions. A few other risk factors that influence drug abuse include:

  • If someone lives alone
  • If you recently lost a spouse
  • Unplanned or forced retirement
  • Chronic pain
  • Disability
  • History of mental health issues

Part of what contributes to substance abuse in older adults being an “invisible epidemic” is that it is easy to mistake substance abuse symptoms for signs of aging. In addition, retired people don’t have to worry about job performance and naturally have more free time to either use drugs or hide their use. 

Signs of Substance Abuse in the Elderly

There are several warning signs regarding substance abuse in the elderly. These warning signs range from mood swings and sleep disorders to loss of interest in hobbies or withdrawal from family and social activity. 

Alcohol and prescription drugs are the two categories of substances that are most abused among older people.


The body reacts differently to alcohol as it gets older. It may take less to induce a buzz or drunkenness. It also tends to take longer to wear off. One of the most dangerous aspects of alcohol is that it interacts with many prescriptions commonly taken by older people. In addition, alcohol use tends to make medical conditions worse. Diabetes, high blood pressure, dementia, and depression are all worsened by imbibing alcohol regularly.  

Prescription Drugs

Prescription drugs are another problem area for older people. For starters, older adults tend to take more prescriptions on average than people in their youth. It is natural to have more ailments and health problems in old age. It’s common for older people to have multiple doctors to address multiple issues. And last, the elderly often experience more potent side effects from medications.

Address Substance Abuse in Older Adults at Recovery Ranch PA

Substance abuse in the elderly is not something to ignore. It can impact any family, no matter how insulated you think your loved ones are from the risks and pressures of substance abuse. After recognizing a substance abuse issue, the first step is to connect your loved one with professional help. 

That naturally starts with a conversation with your loved one. Be direct yet compassionate. You are not in charge of solving the problem, but you can be crucial in getting your elderly loved one the help they need. Encourage them to start by broaching a conversation with their primary doctor. The good news is that treatment success rates among older people tend to be higher. Contact Recovery Ranch PA today at 717.969.9126 to learn how our team can help overcome substance abuse in the elderly. 

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