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Substance Abuse and Aging: a Growing Problem

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Current guidelines suggest that one alcoholic drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men may be beneficial for health. If you drink more than that, you could have a drinking problem -- and you're not alone. Researchers acknowledge the prevalence of alcohol and drug abuse among people over age 60, saying that it affects as many as 17 percent of older adults.

A dangerous habit. Many older individuals may be self-medicating with alcohol and drugs as a way of managing depression or anxiety symptoms, coping with loneliness or loss, or dealing with pain. While this may temporarily ease a person's discomfort, many negative health consequences can develop from using these substances as a mental-health crutch. For instance, excessive drinking can lead to liver damage and failure, especially when combined with certain common medications, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol). Use of aspirin by heavy drinkers can cause bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract.

Taking antihistamines and alcohol together can dangerously lower blood pressure and cause problems with balance as well as confusion. The combination can also depress the central nervous system, slowing breathing and heart rate, which can be deadly. Large doses of prescription benzodiazepines such as diazepam (Valium) with alcohol use can also be lethal. And alcohol and drug use can blunt the positive effects of medications for diabetes, heart disease and other conditions. Finally, these substances may have deleterious effects on the ability to drive safely, to work effectively and to interact with friends and family.

Do you have a problem? One way to tell if you have a drinking or drug problem is to ask yourself the following questions, which are part of the CAGE Questionnaire, a screening test used by doctors to determine if a substance is being overused:

1. Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking or drug use?

2. Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking or drug use?

3. Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking or drug use?

4. Have you ever had a drink or used drugs first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover (an "eye opener")?

Score 1 point for each yes answer. A score of 2 or more suggests you have a substance use problem and should seek help.

Posted in Depression and Anxiety on November 20, 2015

Medical Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute for the advice of a physician. Click here for additional information: Health After 50 Disclaimer

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