The signs of alcohol abuse and medication dependence can be different in adults over fifty than in younger adults. They often drink at home alone, so no one notices the severity of the problem. Many older adults or seniors are retired, so they don’t have work-related problems due to their chemical dependency. They drive less, so there’s less opportunity for them to get arrested for driving under the influence. They may also develop problems with prescription medication, with or without the use of alcohol. Often these problems are hidden. They may also be rationalized by the family.
The following signs and symptoms are typical of baby boomers, older adults or seniors with an alcohol or other drug problem:
- Prefers attending events where drinking is accepted, such as luncheons, happy hours, and parties
- Drinks in solitary, hidden from others
- Is drinking more than before
- Is drinking the same or less yet still experiencing problems
- Makes a ritual of having drinks before, with, or after dinner. Becomes annoyed when this ritual is disturbed
- Has lost interest in activities and hobbies that used to bring pleasure
- Drinks in spite of warning labels on prescription drugs
- Suffers from alcohol-related health problems
- Has bottles of tranquilizers on hand and takes them at the slightest sign of disturbance
- Is often intoxicated or slightly tipsy, and sometimes has slurred speech
- Secretly disposes of large volumes of empty beer and liquor bottles
- Suffers from tremors and shakes
- Makes excuses to keep liquor in the house (guests, special occasions, etc.)
- Drinks despite health problems
- Frequently expresses a wish to die
- Often has the smell of liquor on his or her breath or uses mouthwash to disguise it
- Is neglecting personal appearance and gaining or losing weight
- Complains of constant sleeplessness, loss of appetite, or chronic health problems that seem to have no physical cause
- Has unexplained burns or bruises and tries to hide them
- Seems more hostile or resentful than usual
- Neglects home, bills, pets
- Can’t handle routine chores and paperwork without making mistakes
- Has irrational or undefined fears and delusions, or seems under unusual stress
- Seems to be losing his or her memory
- Falls asleep during conversations
- Appears to be depressed
- Calls at odd hours
- Has problems with urinary incontinence
- Suffers from heart arrhythmia
- Is less involved in activities during evening hours.
If you can answer yes to two or more questions, the person you are concerned about should get a professional assessment by a certified addiction specialist. Or contact our office.
Many of the symptoms listed above are attributed to other diseases or are considered part of the aging process. However, many older people find that once they achieve sobriety, these symptoms disappear.
AGING AND ADDICTION: Helping older adults overcome alcohol or medicaiton dependence The Hazelden Guidebook, by Debra Jay and Carol Colleran.