Although alcohol and drug abuse is most commonly related to young adults, older adults are at high risk as well. According to a recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an estimated 4.8 million adults age 50 and over had used an illicit drug in the past year. Furthermore, a national survey by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), reported the highest frequency of binge drinking occurred among adults age 65 and older – 5 to 6 times per month.

Marc Turner, CEO at Greenhouse, a leading provider of substance abuse treatment services for individuals with drug and/or alcohol addiction, offers these warning signs that your elderly loved one may be abusing drugs or alcohol:

  • Rapid increase in the amount medication needed. If you notice your loved one is using more medicine than usual and needs to fill their prescription earlier than normal, or at an increased frequency, this may be a warning sign they are abusing their medication.
  • Use of more than one pharmacy. Many people who abuse prescription drugs will fill their prescriptions at different pharmacies in order to avoid detection. If you suspect this is taking place, talk with the pharmacist.
  • Visiting more than one doctor. In order to get their fix, many addicts will visit different doctors in an effort to get multiple prescriptions for whatever medicine they are addicted to. Try offering to attend doctor appointments with your elderly family members if you suspect this is happening.
  • Unexplained personality or behavior changes. Oftentimes those suffering from drug or alcohol addiction will exhibit noticeable changes like a loss of interest in hobbies, decreased motivation, withdrawn behavior or sudden changes in relationships.  
  • Uncharacteristic behavior including depression, irritability or mood swings. What once was a loving, bubbly family member may now have sudden mood changes, irritability or angry outbursts and may appear fearful, withdrawn, anxious or paranoid with no apparent reason.


If you suspect your loved one is abusing drugs or alcohol, the best way you can help them is by letting them know you are concerned about them and want to help. Educate them about the dangers and consequences of drug abuse and help them identify the reasons that led them to start abusing drugs. If you believe your loved one has gone past abuse to addiction, seek help from an in-patient or out-patient addiction treatment facility. 

About Greenhouse. As part of American Addiction Centers, Greenhouse treats individuals with substance abuse and behavioral health issues in the serene setting of a former luxury spa. Located in Dallas, Texas, Greenhouse supports recovery with an advanced research–based curriculum and robust alumni program. In addition to traditional treatment modalities, this CARF-accredited facility offers restorative activities such as therapeutic massage, personal training, and yoga. For more information, visit

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