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Addiction & Aging- Signs & Safeguards

If I were to say addiction and senior citizens in the same sentence, you would naturally assume that I would say something like Local senior citizens took time out today to visit the local high school to educate kids on the dangers of addiction. When someone says addiction, nine times out of ten, the mental image that forms is that of a young person, mostly a teenager, getting high on some kind of chemical drugs available on the street. Hence, it would come as a shock to many that addiction is a major issue amongst seniors and with an increasingly aging society, the numbers have grown to be extremely worrying. For any senior living alone or independently, the problem can be even more acute, since earlier the detection the brighter the chances of successfully kicking the habit.

Addiction in Seniors:

The most common type of addiction found in seniors is that of opioid addiction. Opioids are a class of drugs that impact the nervous system and are used in drugs which provide instant and extremely effective pain relief. Drugs like oxycodone, fentanyl, buprenorphine, methadone, oxymorphone, hydrocodone, codeine, and morphine are all opioids and are commonly prescribed by doctors as pain killers. However, while these drugs are great in alleviating pain, they do so by acting on the nervous system, basically stopping pain signals from reaching the brain. Hence they are so effective, and why they also produce feelings of pleasure and stress relief. In many ways, they aren’t much different from narcotics like cocaine, and since any addiction is ultimately a mental health issue, seniors get addicted to opioids in the same way as someone gets hooked onto cocaine.

Even after they have recovered from the affliction that required them to take opioids in the first place, seniors might continue taking them to keep achieving the high brought on by these drugs, even faking pain and lack of recovery to keep getting prescribed the same medication. Many times, having failed to get the necessary prescription for their pain killer of choice, seniors might look to purchase illegal narcotics off the street, put themselves in grave danger. Johns Hopkins University did a study that showed seniors account for as much as 30% of opioid overdose cases. (The Opioid Epidemic- From Evidence to Impact).

Senior Living


The first step to resolving an issue is identifying it. Hence it is important to know the signs that are most often associated with seniors who are suffering from some form of addiction. Knowledge of these signs can help personal home care professionals and other caregivers to intervene at the right time and prevent further escalation of the condition.

  1. Daytime fatigue and drowsiness, despite proper nighttime sleep and absence of physically taxing activity.
  2. Sudden bouts of hyperactivity or hypertension.
  3. Rapid mood swings and sudden temper flares
  4. Difficulty in maintaining physical balance.
  5. Withdrawing from family and social life.


There are certain safeguards that you can take to keep seniors in your family away from addiction.

  1. Actively monitor their medication. If you feel any loved one in your family are misusing prescription drugs, immediately intervene, though gently, and try and understand the reason for misusing a prescribed drug. Misusing a drug is different from drug abuse and often carries a far more innocent and pressing reason for it. Often seniors with painful ailments like chronic arthritis will take one tablet too many for their pain since they might find the prescribed dosage proving inefficient. At such times, one must talk to their loved ones and get them the necessary help they require. If required, make an appointment with their doctor, who might suggest other ways to alleviate the pain or prescribe different, more effective medication.
  2. Don’t feel shy about conducting random checks. Addicts are also excellent liars and will do anything to keep others from either finding out about their addiction, justify their habit, or even play it down. Keep this mind, since the morality of conducting random checks of your loved ones‘ belongings is in a morally grey area. But as much as you might hate it, if you suspect that a senior is abusing prescription drugs, you must try and find out. Check their medicine cabinets and other possible places. Off course, do so as tactfully as possible. If your suspicions turn out to be true, talk to them gently. It might also be a good idea to let your family doctor intervene and suggest the remedies.
  3. Always talk to seniors. Often seniors will get addicted to a medication without even knowing it. Keep close communication with the seniors in the house and earn their trust. If they trust you, it will be easier for you to know about any addiction they might be suffering from, after which you can convince them to seek remedial measures.

It is not always easy to keep tabs on our loved ones with our busy schedules, neither do seniors, people who have themselves taken care of us as when we were children, appreciate when we invade their private space. This is where senior living or assisted living centers come in. Alternatively, you can also convince your loved ones to take the help of trained personal home care assistants, in which case they can continue living their normal lives with very little changes.

Victoria Bryant, is a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) who leads the care team. Dr. Bryant has held numerous leadership positions and has been recognized in such distinctions as Top 30 Influential Women of Houston 2016, Houston Business Journals 40 under 40, Houston Womans Magazine 50 Most Influential Women of 2013, VAN TV Community Leader Award 2015, Texas Executive Women Women On The Move 2015, and others.

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