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Grandma’s Drunk on Spiked Egg Nog

The Elderly and Substance Abuse During the Holidays

It’s that time of year when family gets together, maybe at grandma’s house or the family brings older relatives from an assisted living center – and you start to realize that maybe the older folks in the family are having some issues with how they take their medications and/or how much they drink

Some important things that you should know about drinking and medicines

ID 52331566 © Ruslan Huzau | Dreamstime.comOlder adults may use prescription or over-the-counter medicines in dangerous combinations or misuse them by not following the dosage instructions. They may drink too much alcohol or mix alcohol and medicines. Doing any of these can cause serious health problems. Here are some important things that you should know as you grow older or if you have elderly relatives or friends.

Often substance abuse is overlooked in older adults for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Older adults are more likely to drink or use drugs at home, privately rather than in public.
  • Older adults may not have duties that are affected by substance abuse, such as going to school or work, and therefore how much and how often they take medication or drink may not be noticed.
  • Signs of abuse may be attributed to other age related health problems, such as depression or dementia.
  • Caregivers of older adults may be aware of the problem, but may not want to confront them about it.
  • Older people are given a “pass” on drinking because they are “taking their comfort.”

Alcohol abuse in older adults can cause different problems. For example:

  • Usually older people need less alcohol to become intoxicated than younger folks, because their metabolism has slowed down and their bodies no longer function as efficiently as they did when younger.
  • Older adults stay drunk longer because their bodies process alcohol more slowly as they age.
  • Vision and hearing problems and slower reaction times are common among the aging. Alcohol can make these problems worse, which means alcohol-related falls, car crashes, and other kinds of accidents are more likely.
  • Older adults are likely to mix alcohol and medicine because they are taking so many medicines. Mixing alcohol with many over-the-counter and prescription medicines can be dangerous or even fatal.

Older adults usually take many medications daily. Examples of prescription misuse and abuse are:

  • Older people may take too much medicine because they forget they already took a dose, and double dose themselves.
  • Older adults self-medicate using older medicines or another person’s medicine because it is easier than going to the doctor again or they cannot afford the prescription.
  • Older adults may take more of a medication than is prescribed to “feel better.” This happens most often with medicines used to treat conditions such as depression, anxiety, or chronic pain, and can easily lead to overdose.
  • Older adults may take multiple prescription medicines while drinking alcohol, which can be very dangerous because of drug/alcohol interactions.

If you notice any of these signs in someone you care about, talk to their doctor. Tell their doctor about any drinking or medicine use/misuse, including over-the-counter medicines, herbs, and dietary supplements. Your loved one’s doctor will not be able to share any information with you about your loved one’s status, but s/he can listen to your concerns and use that information with the elderly people in your life.

Richard Taite is founder and CEO of Cliffside Malibu, offering evidence-based, individualized addiction treatment based on the Stages of Change model. He is also co-author of the book Ending Addiction for Good. Article is in blogs.psychcentral.com/.

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