“I never considered myself an addict. I just took my pills normally and my doctor kept prescribing them. I had so many pills I was supposed to be taking daily and I couldn’t really keep track. I hated the way they made me feel. It was like I was in a foggy cloud.”

– Betty

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Did you know that older people, like Betty, are at a higher risk for prescription medicine abuse? The reason why is because older adults take more prescription drugs than any other age group. Americans who are 65 years or older make up only 13% of the U.S. population, yet they consume approximately one third of all prescription drugs. Many older Americans are also prescribed one or more prescription drugs, which ups the risk of accidentally combining the wrong pills. In addition, your liver’s ability to filter out chemicals in your body slows down as you age.  This means that older people may become addicted or have negative side effects even when taking a lower dose of medication.

According to SAMHSA, nearly 30% of Americans between the ages of 57 and 85 use at least five prescription medications. During the years 1997 through 2008, the rate of hospital admissions for medical issues related to prescription medications and illicit drug use rose by 96% among people ages 65-84. Inappropriately using prescription medication can cause many negative side effects, including feelings of dementia and drug-induced delirium in the elderly population.

Opioids and benzodiazepines are the two types of medications that comprise the majority of the medications consumed by older people. Opioids are used to control pain, whether it’s chronic or short-term. These prescription painkillers are highly addictive, especially if they’re taken over a long period of time or if the user takes too many. Benzodiazepines are used to treat anxiety disorders, panic attacks, and insomnia. Valium and Xanax are brand names for benzodiazepines. Benzos are particularly dangerous if taken with alcohol. They are also highly addictive if taken over a long period of time.

There are a few red flags that might signal a dangerous addiction in your loved one. For example, is your grandma constantly thinking and talking about her medication? Is she worried that she won’t have enough pills? Is she taking more pills than she is prescribed? These are all serious warning signs that your loved one might be addicted. If you suspect a drug addiction, don’t wait to get help. Speak with your loved one’s doctor about your concerns.