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Seniors and Prescription Drug Addiction

When one thinks of drug addiction, it is unlikely that the first thing coming to mind is the elderly. The assumption is that one may think of illegal drug use and the disease of a young person. Truthfully, there is a growing epidemic of addiction to prescription drugs among the senior population. However, in most cases, the addiction is due to accidental misuse rather than recreational use of their prescribed medication.

Many seniors are prescribed painkillers for chronic health conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia and back pain, among others. The drugs prescribed for these conditions are generally some form of an opioid, which are extremely addictive. Prescription drug abuse is not always intentional; there are opportunities for older adults to become confused and take their medications improperly.

Over time, a person builds up a tolerance to their prescription medications and requires more to alleviate their painful symptoms. Soon, the underlying pain is no longer being treated, but rather the additional pain from withdrawal. Consequently, larger doses are necessary to get the same amount of relief, and the person’s ability to function declines.

Some prescription drug addiction symptoms include:

  • Falling and/or injuries
  • Agitation, irritability and/or confusion
  • Changes in appetite and/or sleep patterns

If there is any suspicion that your loved one has an addiction problem, please encourage them to seek help.

  • Here are some additional ways to help a loved one who may have a problem:
  • Become aware of the medications they are taking, and why
  • Ensure the prescribed dosage is being followed
  • Encourage use of painkillers and/or sedatives only when absolutely necessary
  • Control access to the potentially abused medications
  • Look for alternative methods to control painful symptoms
  • Encourage them to avoid alcohol when taking painkillers/sedatives
  • Encourage them to bring all medications during doctor visits
  • If necessary, consult with their prescribing physician
  • Check into treatment facilities with senior-specific programs

The National Institute on Drug Abuse has more information here.