Substance Abuse and Drug Use Risks Among Older Adults
As we age, our bodies react differently to medications and alcohol than how they reacted when we were younger. Medications taken together can have dangerous interactions, and if an older adult uses several medications or uses medications with alcohol, sometimes the interaction can be toxic. Sometimes the physical and mental problems exhibited by older adults may not be a normal part of aging, but may actually be caused by drinking too much, incorrect use of medications, or mixing medications and alcohol unsafely.
What is substance misuse?
Substance misuse and abuse for older adults can mean many things. It includes the use of drugs that can change mood, such as alcohol, tranquilizers, pain killers or illegal drugs. Substance misuse also includes drinking while using prescription medications or mixing various medications. Drug misuse includes using any prescription or over-the-counter drug in a way that is different from how it was prescribed. Using too much medicine or not taking it on the schedule the doctor recommended is misuse of medication. Taking prescribed medications along with older medications in your cabinet, or medications that your doctor does not know you are currently taking, can pose dangers. Taking more cough syrup or aspirin than is recommended on the label can be dangerous.
Some medications don’t mix well with alcohol or with other medications. For example, it is unsafe to drink alcohol when you are taking medications for sleeping, pain, anxiety or depression. Because many medications remain in your body for many hours, even if you take a medication in the morning, but have a drink with dinner, the alcohol-drug mix may cause problems. Over-the-counter medications or herbal drugs can also cause problems when taken with other medications or alcohol.
Any substance misuse or abuse can cause serious health problems, financial problems and problems with relationships.
Who is in danger of substance misuse?
Many older adults misuse alcohol, prescription drugs, or other substances, and this number is increasing. Estimates are that one in every five older Americans drink alcohol or use medications unsafely.
Why are the dangers different for older people?
Older adults may metabolize alcohol and drugs differently than they did when they were young. This means an older adults can have increased sensitivity or decreased tolerance to alcohol and other drugs.
Older people are more likely to have chronic conditions, and take more prescription and over-the-counter medications than any other age group in the United States. The dangers of dug misuse and abuse is common among older adults because they use more medications, and because their bodies may not tolerate medications as well.
What physical or mental health conditions are affected by the use of drugs or alcohol?
People with liver disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, ulcers and other gastrointestinal problems, and sleep problems can worsen their conditions by drinking alcohol. Alcohol can also slow healing and recovery from injuries and surgeries. Use of alcohol can also interfere with physicians’ correct diagnosis of some medical conditions.
People with depression, memory or thinking problems, and anxiety should not use alcohol, and should alert their physicians to their mental conditions. For example, alcohol can make depression or memory problems worse, and painkillers and benzodiazepines can cause side effects that can be mistaken for dementia.
Which medications are bad to take with alcohol?
Alcohol can be dangerous when mixed with benzodiazepines such as alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), or prazepam (Centrax); sleeping medications such as zolpidem (Ambien); pain medications such as hydrocodone (Vicodin) or oxycodone (Percocet) or Oxycontin; anti-seizure and anti-psychotic medications; and antihistamines (prescription or over-the-counter). Ask your doctor or pharmacist about the risks of drinking alcohol with any prescribed and over-the-counter medications, as well as herbal remedies.