Healthwise in Emery - August 2023

By Shelly Harris

Nobody is being judgemental. Even wives, husbands, and everyday residents.

Substance abuse among seniors can be a significant concern, yet it often goes unnoticed due to misconceptions and stereotypes about older adults. Several factors contribute to substance abuse among seniors, including changes in health, life transitions, social isolation, and the belief that substance use is less harmful at an older age. Seniors may turn to substances like alcohol or drugs to cope with various issues such as chronic pain, loneliness, grief, anxiety, depression, and other health problems. Retirement, loss of loved ones, and physical limitations can also trigger feelings of emptiness and contribute to substance abuse.

Older adults often take multiple medications for various health conditions, and some of these medications can interact negatively with alcohol or other substances. This can lead to dangerous health complications, reduced effectiveness of medications, and increased risk of falls or accidents.

Seniors might underreport their substance use due to shame, stigma, or the belief that healthcare professionals won’t take them seriously. Additionally, the symptoms of substance abuse can be mistaken for other age-related issues, leading to misdiagnosis or delayed intervention. Also, social isolation and loneliness are common issues among older adults, especially those who have lost friends or spouses. Substance use might be a way for them to temporarily alleviate these feelings, but it can ultimately worsen their overall well-being.

Always be mindful that substance abuse can have severe health consequences for seniors, including interactions with prescription medications, cognitive impairment, increased risk of accidents, falls, and injuries, worsening of chronic health conditions, and a higher likelihood of developing mental health disorders. During annual physicals, Healthcare providers might overlook substance abuse issues in older adults due to assumptions that substance abuse is a problem primarily associated with younger populations. Regular screening for substance use and abuse should be an integral part of healthcare assessments for seniors. It’s crucial to raise awareness about the potential for substance abuse among seniors and provide appropriate resources for prevention and intervention. Healthcare professionals, caregivers, family members, and communities play a vital role in identifying signs of substance abuse and offering support.

To address this issue, it’s essential to break down stereotypes and increase awareness about the potential for substance abuse among older adults. Healthcare providers should actively inquire about substance use during routine assessments, provide education about the risks of mixing substances with medications, and offer appropriate treatment and support for seniors struggling with substance abuse. Family members and caregivers also play a crucial role in identifying and addressing these issues early on.