Is Your Aging Mother at Risk for Addiction?
The Hidden Epidemic
Not many researchers investigate substance abuse or addiction in the over-60 population. The little data we have indicates that it is a growing problem, with up to 17 percent of older adults struggling with either alcohol abuse or drug abuse, mostly prescription drug abuse. It’s a problem that not many people want to talk about. It’s an uncomfortable topic to broach, especially when it involves your parent. Another issue is that symptoms of substance abuse may be mistaken for signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease or may simply be put down to aging.
Why Older Adults Abuse Drugs and Alcohol
There are a number of reasons why your aging mother may abuse drugs or drink too much. Aging comes with some important and troubling life changes. Your mother has likely experienced the loss of friends and family members. She may feel less needed as her children are grown and she retires from work. If she has lost your father, that adds to the many difficult adjustments she needs to make as she ages.
Coping with big life changes isn’t easy, and these adjustments can trigger mental health symptoms like depression or anxiety. Instead of asking for help or treatment, many older adults turn to drinking or drugs to self-medicate. Alcohol is a substance that is familiar to and comfortable for older adults. They come from the cocktail generations, and drinking every night may seem like a normal way to cope. The most common drugs of abuse for older Americans are prescriptions, due to easy access
Catching Substance Abuse in an Older Adult
Many older adults are not willing to ask for help or to admit to having a problem, and their adult children are often afraid to speak up about concerns. If you’re worried that your mother may be abusing drugs or alcohol, it is crucial that you say something. It’s common for physicians to miss substance use disorders in their older patients, and other concerned relatives may be afraid to say anything. If you’re not sure, speak up anyway. Here are some signs of substance use in older women:
- Neglected hygiene
- Car accidents and other types of accidents
- Neglected responsibilities
- Frequent falls
- Poor nutrition or lack of food in the home
- Mood swings
- Uncharacteristic and erratic behaviors
- Urinary incontinence
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Confusion and impaired memory
- Numerous prescriptions and multiple doctors
If you’re worried about your aging mother and you see more than one of these symptoms in her, it’s time for a talk. You will regret it if you don’t say anything, and you might just find that she is receptive to help. She may have been waiting for someone to reach out to her. The good news is that addiction treatment is effective in older adults. In fact, they do better in treatment than younger people do. Speak up, find treatment options and lend your support, and you’ll help get your mother back to good health and a happy lifestyle.