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Posted: December 31, 2010

Seniors and Substance Abuse
Are Mom and Dad Under the Influence? Or Just Lonely?

Loneliness coupled with pre-existing alcohol and drug habits are among the reasons why older adults turn to controlled substances in their golden years. Since seniors often take prescription medication for chronic illnesses, experts say it is important they disclose any drug or alcohol consumption to their physicians in order to avoid any interactions or complications in treatment.

Dr. Stephen M. Scheinthal, DO, a board-certified psychiatrist from Stratford, New Jersey, described substance abuse among seniors as a growing problem with potentially dangerous consequences during a recent presentation to a national medical meeting of the American Osteopathic Association in San Francisco.

"Substance abuse doesn't know any boundary of age," Scheinthal says. "Typically, seniors do not drink to get drunk or take drugs to get high. More likely, they are lonely or they partake in these substances out of habit."

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Undisclosed drug or alcohol use could result in complications, especially if patients experience withdrawal symptoms if they become hospitalized. "If a physician does not know his patient has a cocaine habit, he might prescribe medication to treat a patient for being restless or jittery because that is what the symptoms seem to indicate without realizing the patient actually is going through withdrawal symptoms," Scheinthal explains.

He recommends family members watch for the following signs to see if an older relative might have a substance abuse problem:

If any of these signs are apparent, Scheinthal says, family members need to involve professionals within the medical community to aid them in aiding their loved ones. The senior’s general physician is a good, quick starting point, but others, with specialized skills and training, will likely need to be involved.

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