Parkridge Valley counselor Farlie Chastain discusses why alcohol and drug abuse among seniors is a serious concern and what you can do if an older adult or senior in your life is addicted to drugs or alcohol.
“People are impacted by a number of different stressors and life events as they age - health issues, financial problems, the loss of family or friends – and the depression that can arise from these situations can make people want to ‘escape’,” said Chastain.
“Alcohol is the substance most commonly abused by older individuals, but prescription drug abuse is also common and there are rising numbers of older adults who use illegal drugs. A growing number use both drugs and alcohol, a combination which is especially dangerous.”
The signs of drug or alcohol abuse include:
- A loss of interest in activities or hobbies that were once pleasurable
- Frequently using mouthwash to hide the smell of alcohol
- Sleeplessness, appetite loss, or chronic health complaints that don’t seem to have a physical cause
- An inability to handle chores
- Memory loss
- Neglecting personal appearance or weight gain/loss
Abuse of alcohol and/or drugs is especially dangerous for older people because it can increase the symptoms of age-related diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, cataracts, hearing loss and Alzheimer’s disease. Even healthy older people find that long-standing drug or alcohol habits may be impacting them more than they used to: “Older individuals metabolize alcohol and drugs differently than younger people,” notes Chastain. “Bodies change as people age, and even those who have drank or taken drugs for years may find that their tolerance has decreased. They may find themselves seriously affected by an amount or dose that may not have affected them as much when they were young. The only benefit to this is that it may make an individual more receptive to the idea of seeking help.”
When it comes to getting treatment for someone, Chastain recommends consulting an expert: “If you want to assist an older loved one in getting help for an alcohol or drug problem, it’s a good idea to consult a physician and/or a mental health professional such as a psychologist, social worker or alcoholism counselor. A professional can help determine how best to approach the person and evaluate treatment options to determine what kind of help your loved one might need.” Support and information for family members of individuals with alcohol and drug problems is also available. “Don’t hesitate to ask about resources for yourself – there are organizations like Al-Anon that can help you cope with the stress and difficulty of living with someone who has a drug or alcohol problem.”
For more information, 499-2300.