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6 Surprising Facts About Prescription Drug Abuse in Older Adults

6 Surprising Facts About Prescription Drug Abuse in Older Adults Resurgence Behavioral Health

Prescription Drug Abuse in Older Adults

Prescription drug abuse is one of the biggest health issues facing adults over the age of 60 in America, an issue that is often overlooked and under-diagnosed in older adults, because of:

  • rushed doctor’s visits
  • substance abuse symptoms being overlooked by health care providers
  • behavioral or medical disorders like diabetes, dementia, or depression disguising symptoms of substance abuse

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Prescription drug abuse is what it is called when people misuse their prescribed medications. This may mean taking more than they are prescribed at one time, taking the medication when they do not need it, using prescriptions that are meant for someone else, mixing alcohol or other drugs with the prescription, or using the medication in ways it was not meant to be used, such as crushing up tablets and snorting them.

Some common symptoms of prescription drug addiction in older adults include:

  • Memory problems, becoming confused or forgetful
  • Changes in sleep patterns and eating habits
  • Taking medication at different times or more often than is on the label
  • Wanting to be alone, failing to keep in touch with loved ones
  • Unexplained chronic pain and bruises
  • Depression, sadness, and irritability
  • Talking about the drug often
  • Storing “extra” medication on their person, or sneaking/hiding medicine
  • Getting a prescription from more than one doctor, or fill their prescription at more than one pharmacy
  • Acting defensive when you ask about the medication
  • Failing to bathe or keep clean
  • Showing a lack of interest in hobbies or other normal activities
  • Having a history of drug or alcohol abuse

There is help available that will not only help you stop the prescription drug abuse, but will also improve your overall health and wellness, including psychological and dual diagnosis treatments, counseling, and the addition of a whole new community of sober allies who will support you and be there for you when you need them.

Causes of Prescription Drug Addiction in the Elderly

Some of the most common reasons older adults begin prescription drug abuse later in life include:

  • Feeling a loss of purpose after retirement
  • Experiencing a loss of income, and financial strain
  • Death of close friends, family members, pets, and/or a spouse
  • Being placed in a care home or otherwise relocated
  • Having family conflict
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Experiencing mental decline, like memory loss or dementia
  • Experiencing physical and mental health issues like depression, needing major surgeries, etc.

Drug abuse is especially dangerous to elderly people as over time people become less able to metabolize alcohol and drugs, increasing the brain’s sensitivity to these substances.

6 Facts About Prescription Drug Use in the Elderly Community

Prescription drug use in the elderly community is more rampant than you may think. Here are some facts about prescription drug use in the elderly community:

  • Many doctors mistake symptoms of drug abuse with symptoms of medical or mental health disorders
  • Men and women over the age of 65 should consume no more than one drink daily, or two drinks on any occasion
  • 30% of older adults are taking prescription medications, and 17% have abused their prescriptions
  • Misusing or mixing prescriptions can actually make the drugs less effective, or it can cause an overdose
  • Most older adults who abuse prescription medications do so by accident, as over 50% of those taking medications use five or more prescriptions and supplements daily, increasing the risk of making a mistake or mixing those which should not be mixed
  • Older adult bodies cannot filter and absorb medications as well as they could when they were younger, meaning a lower dose of medications can cause serious side effects


Opioid medications are provided for pain management for a lot of people. Addiction to these drugs can happen gradually, or even accidentally, which may prompt questions about related issues, such as what is transfer addiction? Even if you take the prescribed amount, over time your brain will change chemically, creating a tolerance to the medication that leads to physical dependency. You will begin to feel like you need the drug just to feel normal, with cravings and withdrawal symptoms if you try to cut back or stop using them. This prompts further exploration into understanding dependencies, and the notion of ‘what is transfer addiction’ becomes crucial, as it opens a discourse about how one navigates through the complexities of managing pain while being mindful of potential new addictive behaviors.

Because opioids are so addictive, it is important to only take them as prescribed by your doctor, and never take anybody else’s medication. An integrated prescription drug rehab program can help you if you feel you have an addiction to opioid drugs, as it will include education, counseling, and different types of therapy, to provide you with a full spectrum of whole-patient treatment.


Benzodiazepines are the most dangerous medication for older adults to use. They are given to help treat issues like insomnia, anxiety, panic, and pain, and as part of the tranquilizer family of medications, they increase GABA neurotransmitters in the brain and depress the nervous system for a “quietening” effect on the brain. This produces a calm, sedating feeling.

These drugs are often prescribed without much medical oversight or instruction and are highly addictive substances. The brain will quickly become accustomed to them, and stop producing GABA on its own. Some of the most common benzodiazepine prescriptions are:

  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Lorazepam (Ativan)
  • Midazolam (Versed)
  • Triazolam (Halcion)
  • Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Clonazepam (Klonopin)

If you think you have an addiction to benzodiazepine medications, Resurgence Behavioral Health drug rehab is a place that can help you through detoxing and rehabilitation, keeping you healthy and safe as your body adjusts to the change, and providing psychological and physical health care, along with counseling and other programs.

Resurgence Can Help with Prescription Drug Addiction

Because prescription pill addiction is a serious addiction, most of our clients will benefit from our full spectrum of integrated care. This includes our medically assisted treatment (MAT) detox program, followed by 30 to 90 days of inpatient rehab, with outpatient and aftercare treatments to ensure you remain in contact with good support and medical care for as long as you need it.


Once you have decided that you would like professional help with your substance use disorder at Resurgence, the first step is intake. This involves a medical and psychological screening, an in-depth interview, and basic intake procedures, with our addiction professionals helping you choose which program(s) will work best for your unique situation.


After intake, you will move into an inpatient detox program. At Resurgence, we offer medically assisted treatment (MAT) detox programs which are recommended for drugs like opioids, alcohol, and benzodiazepines, as the withdrawal symptoms can be harsh and sometimes escalate to dangerous levels.

In a MAT program, we will provide you with:

  • 24-hour medical care, ensuring you are safe and not experiencing pain or serious discomfort
  • FDA-approved prescription medications to ensure you remain comfortable and safe
  • Counselling ensure you have help dealing with emotions and unwanted thoughts
  • Therapy to help you begin to dig down to the root of your addiction
  • Dual diagnosis treatment for those with co-occurring mental health issues  

Your length of time in detox will depend on which substances you are detoxing from, how long you have been taking them, and how much at a time. Tapering down off some medications is the best method to avoid shocking the body, so opioids and benzos may take longer than shorter-acting drugs as cocaine or meth would. With a medical detox program, you will not need to suffer as the drugs and toxins leave your body, and you will have a lower chance of relapsing.

Inpatient Rehab

Once you have completed your detox, the next recommended step is usually 30 to 90 days in inpatient rehab. At Resurgence, we provide a customized program that will best help you, including treatments and therapies like:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT)
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
  • Experiential therapy
  • Trauma-Informed therapy
  • One-on-one talk therapy
  • Couples therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Physical exercise
  • Nutritional counseling
  • Life skills/vocational coaching
  • Educational programs

Inpatient rehab is a full-time program, meaning you will live within the rehab center, surrounded by peers in a comfortable room with a full-sized bed. Your days will be structured, filled with treatments to help you meet your goals, regain your health, and address mental health issues and trauma. There are recreational activities and off-site excursions as well, so you can relax and enjoy your time with us.

Inpatient rehab is important for many, as it provides full-time medical supervision, with mental health professionals at the ready for those who may require additional support. You will also be removed from your everyday stress, and in our 100% sober facility, there will be no temptations to relapse. This way, you can gain an outside perspective on your life, reframing what is most important to you, and making lasting behavioral changes to promote long-term recovery.

Outpatient Rehab

Outpatient rehab is available to those with mild or moderate symptoms of addiction, those who have their mental illness and physical health under control, and those determined to have a lower chance of relapsing. It is also recommended for patients who are transitioning from inpatient rehab back home.

At Resurgence, we offer:

A Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) – in the PHP you live at home but stay in a hospital-like setting for up to 7 days a week, with up to 6 hours per day of programming.

An Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) – in the IOP you live outside our facility, commuting in for 9 to 19 hours of structured participation per week, including one-on-one therapy and groups.

Aftercare Outpatient Program (OP) – this is a continuation of the IOP but on your own terms, with scheduled therapy appointments and groups when you need them, as well as a continued connection to our sober community, medical and psychiatric care.

At Resurgence, we know that you are not just a prescription drug addict, but rather an intelligent human being who deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. With our whole-patient approach through your integrated continuum of care, we will help you detox, rehabilitate and recover from drug addiction so you can regain your health and take back control over your life. Contact us today to learn more about prescription drug rehab and how we can help you.

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Individualized treatment programs delivered in a comfortable, relaxed setting promote healing in your recovery journey.

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