When you think about monitoring a loved one for signs of drug or alcohol abuse, you probably have a teenager or young adult in mind. They’re a high-risk group, and as a parent you feel responsible for the health and safety of your child, so it makes sense that it would always be on your mind. What might not have occurred to you, however, is that you may need to keep an eye on your parents as well. Addiction isn’t strictly a young person’s problem, and the signs and symptoms in older people are different than they are for teens.

It might seem surprising at first, to think that elderly people would have substance use disorders. If you’re still raising children and struggling to handle all of the stress and costs associated with that, being retired and living alone probably sounds wonderful. The truth is, older people are often lonely. Their children are out of the house and sometimes living far away, their friends are dying, and maybe they’ve already lost a spouse. Finances can be tight for people who don’t have retirement income, because Social Security often isn’t enough to pay for all of a person’s needs. These means that older people sometimes have to move out of the houses they’ve spent most of their lives in, which can be extremely upsetting for some people. All of these things can lead to depression, which then leads to people self-medicating with drugs or alcohol.

Older people are also more likely to be in pain. All of those years of living start to catch up with you, and at some point, aches and pains become an everyday thing. Many older people also suffer from painful arthritis or other conditions, like diabetes and certain cardiovascular and neurologic diseases. By the time someone is in their 70s, they might have been using opioid painkillers for decades, which means that developing an addiction is unfortunately not all that surprising.

The following are some signs that could indicate a problem with drinking or drug use in older adults:

  • Solitary or secretive drinking.
  • A ritual of drinking before, with, or after dinner.
  • A loss of interest in hobbies or enjoyable activities.
  • Drinking while taking prescription drugs despite warning labels.
  • Immediate and frequent use of tranquilizers.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Empty liquor and beer bottles lying around the house.
  • The smell of alcohol on their breath.
  • A change in personal appearance.
  • Chronic and unsupported health complaints.
  • Hostility or depression.
  • Memory loss and confusion.


These symptoms can easily be confused with the regular signs of aging. Many older people become forgetful or have mood swings, so it’s important to keep a close eye out if you notice any of the more obvious ones.

If you or a loved one need help with quitting drugs or alcohol, consider Asana Recovery. We offer medical detox, along with both residential and outpatient programs, and you’ll be supervised by a highly trained staff of medical professionals, counselors, and therapists. Call us any time at (949) 438-4504 to get started.