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Senior Drug Abuse

Senior drug abuse is not limited to medication misuse but steadily includes illicit drug use, especially as seniors age. Age-sensitive rehab for older adults addresses specific drug use and encourages the involvement of family members in treatment.

Assessment and diagnosis of substance abuse or addiction must take into account which drugs are used in which quantity and combination and for how long. Many medical conditions are caused by drug abuse, and at least 70 percent of senior hospital admissions are related directly to alcohol, medication or other drug misuse.

Seniors take multiple medications, including prescription and over-the-counter medications. The combination of psychotropic medication and alcohol used by seniors has been largely ignored, yet it carries huge health risks. Sensitivity to medications and alcohol increases in older adults. A combination of medications and alcohol causes a synergistic effect, increasing the risk of falls and injury.

Marijuana ranks as the No. 1 choice among illegal drugs for seniors. Many seniors started smoking marijuana as teens or young adults and never completely quit. Marijuana as well as alcohol and tobacco have been the gateway drugs for many who went on to experiment with hallucinogens such as LSD, MDMA and opioids such as heroin. The No. 1 choice of first-time illicit drugs used by the senior population is the central nervous system stimulant, cocaine.

Many older adults who enter rehab suffer from chronic pain. They have been using at least four to five prescription medications as well as over-the-counter drugs. However, their pain has not subsided but may have actually increased, because long-term use of pain pills can actually exacerbate the pain. In rehab, patients will receive non-addictive medications, and they will learn to integrate alternative therapies and practices such as aqua therapy, acupuncture, meditation, relaxation training and neuromuscular massage into everyday living.

The phenomenon of pain pill mills, especially in Florida, began to explode by taking advantage of older populations who suffered chronic pain, stress or sleep problems. Pain medications are too readily available, and the problems caused by their availability are very real. Opioids are powerful and can slow breathing, causing cardiac arrest for many. They also are addictive.

Sedative, pain and anti-anxiety medications become physically and mentally addictive when the patient starts to seek more to receive the high. The patient may resort to doctor shopping or Internet shopping.

Drug abuse can be entirely accidental, especially when doctors prescribe addictive medications over long periods of time.  Physical, emotional and mental dependence follow and, finally, the addict struggles to get through life. Relapse can also occur for many alcoholics and drug addicts in recovery when pain medications are not tapered correctly following surgery.