Addiction to drugs or alcohol can occur at any age; however, the signs of addiction can be way different in seniors than those seen in younger adults. In fact, a lot of seniors are misdiagnosed, which is why drug or alcohol addiction can look like a health-related issue instead. If you want to learn more about how to recognize a substance abuse problem and help a senior in your care overcome it, just keep on reading. Here are some useful guidelines on how to make that happen, so check them out.

How to identify substance abuse in seniors?

Substance abuse in seniors often goes undiagnosed simply because a lot of the symptoms resemble symptoms of common disorders that affect aging adults. The most common ones include memory loss, clumsiness, and social withdrawal. These certainly are a cause for concern, no matter if we’re talking about substance abuse or not. On the other hand, if the aforementioned symptoms couple with the following ones, you’re highly likely to deal with substance abuse. Some of them are extreme moodiness, alcohol on the breath, hidden and/or empty alcohol bottles, and unpredictable behavior that comes and goes.

What are the reasons for seniors to start using drugs or alcohol?

Family, friends, and caregivers should be particularly mindful of seniors who have suffered significant losses, such as the loss of a spouse of close friends. Loss of income or social network due to retirement is another common trigger, as well as a loss of mobility and deteriorating health in general. Such life changes can bring loneliness, boredom, and anxiety, as well as depression which often goes hand in hand with a drinking problem in older adults. At first, a drink seems to bring temporary relief from stressful situations, but it’s important to know that this coping mechanism is extremely unhealthy as it brings some serious health risks while hindering the ability to successfully deal with the underlying emotions.

What drug or alcohol addiction looks like in seniors?

Generally speaking, drug or alcohol addiction among seniors usually has a much subtler appearance than it’s the case with working adults. Unlike a working adult, who might struggle to get to work each day showing signs of physical health problems, an older adult doesn’t have a tight schedule to keep. This is exactly why the signs of drug/alcohol addiction signs can be much easier to miss – especially when we know that seniors are also showing signs of deteriorating health because of their age. It’s important to remember that hospital personnel sometimes may miss identification of alcohol problems in the elderly due to a number of different factors, from being focused only on their current medical complaint to taking less accurate histories of alcohol use (as compared to younger patients).

What are the best ways to help seniors overcome substance use disorders?

Open the lines of communication

The person you worry about can’t actually know that you’re concerned unless you clearly state that, right? Yes, this will probably be a quite uncomfortable conversation for both of you, but you need to understand that it’s a necessary one. However, you should adopt a tone of love and respect, so that the senior who has a serious problem doesn’t feel that you’re talking down to them or treat them like a child. Love and respect are always effective when you want to achieve your goal of getting a loved one the help they need, so make sure not to forget that.

Make them comfortable to talk about the underlying causes

Let’s be honest – people drink just for the sake of drinking very rarely, which is exactly why you need to make the senior in your care comfortable enough to talk about the underlying causes. A lot of seniors often struggle with depression, anxiety, and other aforementioned issues, and drink as a way to self-medicate. So, if you determine that there is an underlying issue that resulted in substance abuse, do your best not to sound accusatory but be as understanding as possible instead. Just feel their response and go from there.

Find a detox/rehab center

Finding a detox or rehab center is a good way to help a senior in your care overcome a substance use disorder, which is particularly important if you’ve already done everything you could to help them, but without results. The truth is that the brain and the body don’t always move at the same speed, which is especially true when it comes to addiction in the elderly. That’s why you should find a medical detox program designed to help overcome addiction problems and bring a balance between the brain and the body. As the person moves through detox, the medical team will keep a close eye on both their mental and physical health, which should definitely be your top priority.

As you can tell, there are a lot of important things to know about seniors who are dealing with substance abuse. Even though understanding and helping them can seem like an impossible mission, it doesn’t have to be like that at all, so stick to our guidelines if you want to know how to accomplish that with success. Love, respect, and understanding always go a long way.

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