12 Signs of Addiction in Seniors

Signs of Alcoholism or Drug Dependency in the Over 65s

  1. Speech and SmellOne of the most obvious signs is slurred speech on the end of the phone when you call to check on them, or a smell of alcohol on the breath when you visit. A decline in personal hygiene is also a sign of addiction.
  2. Unreliability: Addiction changes behaviour in people. If someone who has been reliable and sociable all their lives starts to miss appointments and avoid friends, it could be a warning sign.

  3. Mental Health Issues: Lonliness and depression are common among the elderly, particularly is they are bereaved or living alone.

  4. Loss of Appetite is common among addicts. This leads to weight loss which is usually regarded as a good thing, but can be a sign of addiction in a senior. Not eating decreases energy levels, lower the immune system and makes the elderly person more suseptible to illness.

  5. Emotional Rollercoaster: Someone who was emotionally stable can become unpredictable because of addiction. Moods can go from calm to aggressive within seconds, for no apparent reason.

  6. Excessive Sleeping: The metabolism of seniors tends to be less efficient and consuming drugs and alcohol exhausts their bodies. Periods of long sleep, or falling asleep in unusual places, could be an indicator of drug/alcohol abuse.

  7. Unsteadiness: Elderly people are prone to falling, but this risk is increased when a person has been drinking or taking too many prescription drugs. If accidents are frequent then there may be a hidden alcoholism problem.
  8. Memory Lapses: While this is a usual symptom of old age, a previously bright and alert person will develop a sluggish mind and be unable to remember recent events if they are abusing alcohol or drugs. 

  9. Fake illnesses are often used by addicts as an excuse to get prescription drugs from doctors. Often the person will complain of back pains, and other pains, requesting opiate-based painkillers.

  10. Defensiveness: Addicts tend to have sophisticated patterns of blame and denial; they blame other people for their problems and deny they have a drinking/drug problem.

  11. Quantity: As someone becomes dependent their tolerance to the substance increases and they need increasing quantities of alcohol or drugs in order to have the same effect. Prescription drug addicts often develop tactics, such as claiming their pills ran out early or they lost the packet, to justify more.

  12. Hide and Seek: Addicts-in-denial tend to develop a network of hiding places around the house. An indicator of an alcohol problem is bottles hidden in unusual places. The same applies to prescription pills and illegal drugs – if you find them hidden in toolboxes, winter clothes or in drawers it’s clear that something is wrong.

Spotting addiction in elderly people can be difficult due to:

  • Overlapping symptoms of the normal ailments that come with old age, and those associated with alcoholism and drug addiction.

  • Stigma about addiction and the tendency to hide and deny, both on the part of the patient as well as by families.

  • Not wanting to be a burden – older people will often downplay their problems because they do not want to burden other family members.

  • The difficulty of identifying signs of drug (and alcohol) abuse in older people who take various prescription drugs and perhaps suffer from illnesses that are typical for their age group – such as insomnia, depression or dementia.

  • When it comes to alcohol, elderly people tend to drink “very little very often”, making it difficult to observe anything other than social drinking.

The Importance of Rehab Treatment

An important question to be addressed is “Why bother?” It can be easy to ignore drug and alcohol abuse by our grandparents and changing habits in old age is particularly hard.

However, it’s vital to realise that elderly people are particularly vulnerable as they process drugs and alcohol much slower than young people – and addiction can shorten their lives considerably.

What can be done?

If you spot these tendencies in someone you care for the vital thing is to get help from experienced professionals. Engaging with the person, trying to solve their problems, can make the situation worse and can lead to co-dependency.

At Castle Craig Hospital we have over 30 years’ experience in dealing with all of the above symptoms. You can call us anytime to speak with our help Admissions Staff. They will be happy to introduce you to our rehabilitation treatment programme and the admission process.

To speak to someone from our admission department, please call (+44) 01721 722 763 or one of the numbers in the purple box on the right.