Saturday, April 2, 2016

Addiction and substance abuse a hidden epidemic among seniors

Addiction and substance abuse are a hidden epidemic among seniors. Many seniors suffer from drug, alcohol and gambling problems. However, very little is known about these issues because they are often under reported

Substance misuse  may be intentional or unintentional but it can lead to abuse, which may in turn lead to addiction.  Many seniors suffer from drug, alcohol and gambling problems. However, very little is known about these issues because they are often under reported. Alcoholism is more prevalent among men and prescription medicine dependency is more prevalent among women

The problem is that many seniors may experience symptoms which vary considerably from person to person, for example: 

  • Sleep problems
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Slurring of words
  • Stumbling or falls
  • Changes in appetite
  • Irritability or delusions

These changes are not necessarily part of the normal aging process - they may be caused by illness or addiction. Symptoms of alcohol or drug misuse can look like the changes brought on by age-related illnesses. For example forgetfulness could be a sign of many things including: 
  • Depression or dementia
  • Medication side-effect 
  • Long-standing characteristic of a person who now happens to be older
  • Or  it could be due to alcohol abuse
Another example a failure to pay bills on time (by a person who is normally careful about such things) could be a sign of: 
  • Anxiety
  • Dementia 
  • Or it could be due to a gambling problem
So we should be clear on the following: Substance Misuse is not using medications as you are told to, for example: Regularly drinking above the recommended daily limits or taking medications at the wrong times or in the wrong amounts.

Substance Abuse is a pattern of repeated use of alcohol, drugs or both even though this use causes unpleasant or distressing events. Substance Abuse results in failure to meet obligations, using in physically dangerous situations and having potential legal problems, for example: getting drunk and arguing at family dinners or taking sleeping pills during the day and then having a “fender-bender” due to inattentiveness

So in terms of substance abuse the research tells us that senior men consume larger quantities of alcohol and are more likely to be alcoholics than women. Senior women are at greater risk of becoming dependent on prescription medications

There are a number of risk factors for substance abuse and addictions among seniors. For example, anything from the loss of a close friend or spouse, to being bored or socially isolated, living in poverty, suffering from stress, or having a mental illness such as depression, may contribute to a risk of substance abuse or addiction. 

In other situations, peer pressure alone may contribute to substance abuse or addiction - for example, if a person enjoys playing card, but they group they play with always drinks while they do so, it may be difficult for the person to remove themselves (or not take a drink or two) as they enjoy the social aspects of playing cards.  We worry about the influence of peer pressure on young adults and teenagers, yet peer pressure can be a very strong factor for seniors as well.

There are warning Signs that friends, caregivers and family should be aware of in dealing with this issue.  These warnings could be divided into two categories changes in behaviour and changes in mental ability. 
Changes in behaviour:
Fall a lot or can’t make it to the bathroom in time
Have more headaches and dizziness
Do not keep yourself clean
Change your eating habits
Begin to ignore and lose touch with family and friends
Think about suicide
Begin to have legal or money problems

Changes in mental ability:
Begin to feel anxious a lot of the time
Find your memory becomes worse
Find it difficult to focus or make decisions
Lose interest in your usual activities
Have mood swings or feel sad and depressed

I have seen friends who are falling into the habit of drinking too much and we have talked about the problem. I believe that drinking is a personal choice.  In Canada we have some Low Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines so I am presenting them here for your consideration. If you choose to drink, these guidelines can help you decide when, where, why and how.
Guideline 1
Reduce your long-term health risks by drinking no more than: 10 drinks a week for women, with no more than 2 drinks a day most days
15 drinks a week for men, with no more than 3 drinks a day most days Plan non-drinking days every week to avoid developing a habit.
Guideline 2
Reduce your risk of injury and harm by drinking no more than 3 drinks (for women) and 4 drinks (for men) on any single occasion. Plan to drink in a safe environment.  Stay within the weekly limits outlined in Guideline 1
Guideline 3
Do not drink when you are: driving a vehicle or using machinery and tools taking medicine or other drugs that interact with alcohol doing any kind of dangerous physical activity living with mental or physical health problems living with alcohol dependence responsible for the safety of others making important decisions

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