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Elderly Drug Addiction

Mother doesn’t always know best, especially if she is among the growing number of elderly, between the ages of 57 and 85, who is abusing drugs.

Let’s face it, when you think of drug addiction, you don’t think of the elderly but, the fact is, one quarter of prescription drugs sold in the U.S. are used by the elderly, often for problems such as chronic pain, insomnia, and anxiety. And the medications that are typically prescribed for such conditions – narcotic pain killers, sleeping pills and tranquillizers – are common medications of abuse.

Statistics of Elderly Drug Addiction

Approximately 80% of all senior citizens have at least one chronic health condition, and 50% have at least two chronic health conditions. Nine out of every ten senior citizens (between the ages of 57 to 85) use a combination of OTC medication, dietary supplements, and prescription drugs. About three in ten seniors use at least five prescriptions on a daily basis. Between 1997 and 2008, the rate of hospital admissions among the elderly for medication- and illicit drug- related conditions grew by 96% and, for people 85 and older, that number grew by 87%.

Findings show that, as people continue to age, they are more likely to use more prescription drugs as well as over-the-counter (OTC) medications than their younger counterparts. Elderly drug addiction can bring about several harmful and tragic consequences such as drug-induced delirium and dementia and elderly patients should undergo testing to see if their memory loss or mental confusion is due to medication rather than the early onset of Alzheimer’s. Elderly drug abuse can also mimic other problems that are typically common in older adults.

These findings clearly show that there is a relationship between substance abuse and mental illness and further validate the growing need to address the prevention of prescription misuse and abuse among the elderly population.

Why the Elderly

There are physical, psychological and social factors that lead to elderly drug addiction. The elderly may become dependent on drugs that were prescribed to deal with joint pain and arthritis, sleeping problems or injuries from falls. The elderly also tend to lose loved ones at a higher and faster rate and so dealing with grief and sadness, which can increase drug dependence. Another factor: being far from loved ones and family may also increase the risk of elderly drug abuse because they are lonely or bored. Also, keep in mind, addiction can affects anyone so age doesn’t matter. In fact, studies show that 15% of the population has an inclination toward addiction; the elderly have that same inclination.

Signs of Elderly Drug Addiction

The main sign that an elderly person might be addicted to a medication is if they are constantly thinking about it and worrying that they will not be able to function without it. Another common warning sign of elderly drug addiction is when they start taking their medication at different times and at different doses from what was prescribed to them.

Other Signs of Elderly Drug Addiction

  • If they used to take 1 or 2 pills a day, and now they are taking 4 or 6 a day
  • Their behavior or mood has changed; they are argumentative, withdrawn, and anxious
  • They give excuses as to why they need the pills and get defensive when confronted
  • They always have an emergency supply in their purse or pocket, just in case
  • Have they ever been treated by a physician or hospital for excessive use of pills?
  • They change/go to multiple doctors and/or pharmacies;  
  • They sneak or hide prescription pills


Elderly drug addiction is not something that should be overlooked or underestimated. Most of us when we think of drug abuse don’t usually think of our parents or grandparents but they can suffer too and if that is the case they also can benefit from the help provided by a drug abuse treatment center.

If you or your loved one is in need of treatment for alcohol or drug addiction please give us a call at 800-951-6135.











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