Substance Use and Older Adults

By Marcia Goodman-Hinnershitz 

Think substance use is a young person’s problem? Think again. Far from being immune, older adults often confront physical and social changes that can increase their vulnerability to substance misuse.

Risk Factors

Several risk factors for substance misuse are specific to older populations. For one thing, as people age, they process drugs more slowly, which can make their brains more sensitive to the effects of substances. At the same time, due to chronic health conditions, senior citizens are prescribed more medicines than other populations, increasing the potential for misuse. What’s more, they frequently receive multiple prescriptions, while also taking nonprescription drugs and dietary supplements. Mixing medications can inadvertently result in serious health consequences and can even pose a risk for overdoses.

 Pain Management

 Persistent pain is a common health condition in the aging population, and may be complicated by other health issues. According to SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), over the past several decades, physicians have increasingly prescribed prescription opioids to address older patients’ chronic pain from arthritis, cancer, neurological diseases and other illnesses.  Prescribing opioid medicines for pain management leads to a higher rate of exposure to potentially addictive medications.

Preventing Substance Misuse

How can older adults take the initiative in the prevention of substance misuse? Four tips by the FDA (Federal Drug Administration) provide sound guidance in the use and storage of medications:

  1. Take Medicine as Prescribed — with Input from Your Health Care Provider
  2. Store your Medicines Properly and Check the Expiration Date
  3. Be Aware of Potential Medication Interactions and Side Effects
  4. Keep a Medication List

Free Resources for Medication Management

The Council on Chemical Abuse offers several free resources to Berks County residents to assist with the safe management of medications. These resources include a listing of the locations of prescription drop boxes, free medication disposal bags to dispose of unused medications, and free medication lock boxes to safely store medications in the home. CLICK HERE to learn more about medication safety.

Watch our BCTV episode about Substance Abuse in Older Adults


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