Prescription Drug Addiction and the Elderly

As people grow older, they experience changes and situations that can contribute to a prescription drug addiction. As more and more drugs are prescribed to treat the discomforts associated with aging, more and more elderly people find themselves becoming dependent upon them, abusing them, and grappling with an addiction to them.

What Contributes to the Growing Problem?

There is no single factor that causes someone to develop an addiction in old age, but some common contributing influences include:

  • Chronic illness
  • Loss of dexterity
  • Loss of mobility
  • Depression

These all tend to be treated with prescription medications designed to alleviate psychological and physical discomfort. With increased reliance upon medication, there is an increased rate of addiction.

In addition, elderly people go through tremendous changes as they near the end of life, and it can isolate them. This makes them vulnerable to  self-medicating the discomfort that comes with feeling alone.

Further, changes in metabolism that occur at this time cause the drugs to metabolize more slowly as the liver works to filter them out. This can lead to dependence, as the body becomes accustomed to having medications consistently present in its system.

What Are Some Signs of Prescription Drug Addiction?

People who abuse prescription drugs display certain patterns of behavior. These include:

  • Taking higher doses than prescribed
  • Taking doses more often than prescribed
  • Seeking prescriptions from more than one doctor
  • “Losing” prescriptions and asking for additional ones
  • Forging, stealing, or selling prescriptions

These are all obvious red flags. Many people also believe that evidence of being under the influence would point clearly to abuse. However, often the signals we would associate with being “high” mirror symptoms that are a side effect of aging, like erratic sleeping patterns and confused thinking. This is one reason prescription drug addiction goes unnoticed in this group.

What Should Be Done?

There needs to be increased education regarding drug use among senior citizens that targets not only the seniors themselves but also the people who love them. This is a problem that goes largely unnoticed and there must be more vigilant engagement with older people and observations of their general health. In addition, it is time to stop thinking of rehab as something reserved for younger people.

It’s no secret that prescription drug abuse is on the rise. In addition, it’s important to dispose of unused medications properly. There are times that unused prescriptions find their way into the wrong hands. Carlson Attorneys recently published an article that emphasizes the importance of National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day and the dangers of unused prescriptions.

Mary Lamphere is a dedicated journalist of and with a background in addiction treatment and recovery. She mostly writes about the ways that drug addiction can interfere with interpersonal relationships but enjoys all things recovery related. When she’s not thinking about her writing, she enjoys spending time with family and friends.


Learn more about this and other topics at FreedomFest, “The world’s largest gathering of free minds,” July 17-20, 2019 at Paris Resort Las Vegas.