Alcohol and Medication Misuse Among Older Adults

According to the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SMAHSA), alcohol and medication misuse among older adults is a growing health problem. Nearly one in five older adults misuses alcohol and prescription drugs to some extent. As a Senior Homecare & Health Care Provider, companies like Always Best Care Senior Services understand that the misuse of alcohol and medications can have greater negative health consequences for older adults. Alcohol can increase the risk for falls, injury, and disability related to balance problems, and trigger or worsen certain medical conditions. Older adults have more chronic diseases and take more prescription medicines, and may make mistakes in how to properly take medicine. Using alcohol with certain medications can cause problems, such as confusion, difficulty thinking, depression and even heart irregularities. Over-the-counter medicines, purchased off the shelf in the drugstore or grocery store, can also be misused.

Health care providers can sometimes overlook substance misuse and abuse among older adults. Symptoms in older adults can look similar to symptoms of other medical disorders (diabetes, dementia, and depression). Older adults may feel shame or guilt about their misuse of alcohol and medicine. If the subject is not discussed with the doctor, the problem is not likely to be addressed. As older adults often see many health care providers, each doctor may not have the complete picture of what is going on with the patient. Hurried office visits and limited training in geriatric issues can exacerbate the problem.

Some professionals believe that alcohol and substance abuse problems cannot be successfully treated in older adults; others think treatment is a waste of health care resources. What is a “drinking problem”, and how will you know if alcohol is causing problems you may be observing? Drinking alcohol becomes a problem when it brings negative consequences, either to the drinker or to others. Negative consequences can be medical, psychological, or social in nature. Doctors have a list of criteria to determine if someone has drug or alcohol dependency. Unfortunately, these criteria do not always apply to older adults, making diagnosing a substance abuse problem even more challenging.
Remember that the signs of substance abuse are similar to signs for many other health problems (such as stroke, dementia, depression, and anxiety). Always seek a doctor’s advice.
For more information on alcohol and medication misuse among older adults, contact a Care Coordinator at any of the individually owned and operated Always Best Care Offices located throughout the country.

To find the Always Best Care Senior Services office nearest you, please visit

Tonja Edelman, MSW, is a Franchise Operations Trainer at Always Best Care Senior Services, and a former Deputy Public Conservator. Through its network of independently owned and operated franchises, Always Best Care Senior Services provides non-medical in-home care, assisted living placement and skilled home health care for seniors across the country. Visit Always Best Care Senior Services at

Always Best Care Senior Services

Always Best Care Senior Services ( is based on the belief that having the right people for the right level of care means peace of mind for the client and family. Always Best Care Senior Services has assisted over 25,000 seniors, representing a wide range of illnesses and personal needs. This has established the company as one of the premier providers of in-home care, assisted living placement assistance, and skilled home health care.

December, 2010

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