Alcohol is the most common addiction for adults over 55, but the fastest growing addiction for older adults is prescription medications. People don’t think their parents, or even their grandparents, would be addicted to drugs, but this dangerous problem is now affecting so many of our loved ones who often fly under most people’s radar.
The most commonly abused prescription medications by older adults are opioid-like pain medications (like Percocet, Oxycontin, Duragesic patch, etc) or tranquilizers called benzodiazepines (like Xanax, Ativan, Valium, etc. or any generic –azepam). Older individuals often start out using these drugs under the care of a doctor to meet a very real need in their lives, and some cross the line from medicinal use to misuse, and then to full-blown addiction.
Although most are sneaky with their misuse or addiction, the meds start to control them and they will have observable behaviors for you to piece together and identify the addiction. It is important to know and watch for the signs of prescription drug addiction so you can help your loved one get life-saving treatment. Red flags of possible prescription medication misuse, abuse, or addiction are:
- Unusual or ongoing complaints about pain syndromes or exaggerating an existing pain.
- Stating that they are anxious even though you don’t see many external signs of anxiety.
- Frequently carrying their pill bottle or some extra pills in their purse or in their pocket.
- Exaggerated pain complaints when you don’t see other signs of pain or disability.
- Getting a prescription for the same medicine from 2 different doctors.
- Filling a prescription for the same medicine at 2 different pharmacies.
- Taking larger doses than prescribed or instructed on the label.
- Taking the medicine at different times, more often, or sooner than is instructed on the label.
- Abrupt fluctuations in daily mood, alertness, focus, attitude, or behavior.
- Longer term behavior or mood changes, such as becoming more withdrawn, irritable, depressed or angry.
- Cognitive changes, such as being more forgetful, disorganized, less focused, easily distracted, not as smart or on the ball, or slower to respond than they were before the medications were prescribed.
- Having fluctuations in their alertness that’s not related to their sleep. They may appear sleepy, drowsy, or not alert.
- Often thinking or talking about a medicine.
- Being afraid to go without taking a dose of medicine.
- Being uncomfortable or defensive when you ask about the medicine.
- Making excuses for why they need a medicine.
- Sneaking or hiding medicine.
- Running out of their medicine before the prescription is due to be filled.
- Making excuses as to why they don’t have enough pills for the month, “lost them” “left them at the office” “somebody took them” “the pharmacist didn’t give me enough” “must’ve fallen out of my purse or car.”
- Having been treated for alcohol, drug, or prescription drug abuse in the past.
Note: Having withdrawal symptoms is a sign of physical dependence, but not necessarily a sign of addiction and should be discussed with the doctor. Make sure your loved one isn’t over-taking their meds just to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
If there is a past history of substance abuse, the addict is usually more cunning and secretive with their behaviors and more argumentative and evasive when confronted. If there is no past history of addiction, this person is usually more open to getting help and back to the functioning capabilities and control over their life they are used to.
If you have noticed several of these warning signs in your parents, grandparents, or another older adult, they need help. We can connect you with a rehab program that helps people of all ages achieve not only lasting sobriety but also lifelong transformation. Contact us at 844-Life-Change (844-543-3242) today to learn about treatment options for prescription drug addiction.