top of page

Substance Use Disorder in Older Adults: How to Recognize the Signs

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.

Resources: SAMSHA, American Addiction Centers

0 views0 comments
bottom of page