No one wants to think that their grandparents or older patients may have a potential substance use disorder (SUD). But whether you suspect it or not, it’s essential that you learn to recognize the signs of use and abuse of substances in older adults so you can help support your loved ones.
Addiction and drug use problems may seem like a teen or young adult only problem. However, more than 1 million adults aged 65 or older were living with an SUD in 2014, making substance use a developing public health issue among this demographic. To learn how to recognize the signs, let’s first define who’s considered “older adults.”
Defining Substance Use Disorder in Older Adults
It’s common to see “older adults” used interchangeably with “elderly” and “seniors,” but the exact age range for what’s considered older is constantly changing. According to most research, this group is 65 years old or older.
Older adults may have problems with substance use that go unnoticed due to their family’s and caregiver’s little awareness of SUD, using at home versus in public, or not going to work or other obligations that are affected by substance abuse.
To be there for your loved ones in case of challenges like alcohol or drug use problems, look out for mental, physical, and behavioral signs of abuse.
Mental warning signs of SUD include:
Sudden mood swings
Unexplained change in personality or attitude
Appearing anxious or fearful for no reason
Lack of motivation
Periods of unusual increased energy, nervousness or instability
Behavioral warning signs of SUD include:
Increased difficulties in relationships
Unexplained need for money or financial problems
Life revolves around drug use
Continuing to use despite negative consequences
Increased drug tolerance
Frequently getting into legal trouble
Abandoning usual enjoyable hobbies for drug use
Physical warning signs of SUD include:
Tremors, slurred speech, or impaired coordination
Unusual orders on breath, body, or clothing
Sudden weight loss of weight gain
Changes in appetite, appearance, or sleep patterns
If you suspect an older adult is abusing substances, show up for them with compassion, most importantly, and consult with a trusted healthcare professional about how to get help.