Prescription Drug Abuse in the Elderly | Causes & Risk Factors

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What medicines increase the risk for abuse?

A person can abuse any type of prescription drug, but elderly adults commonly take two types of medicines that have a high potential for addiction:

  • Opioids are prescription drugs used to control pain. They include medicines such as oxycodone (OxyContin), oxycodone combined with acetaminophen (Percocet), and hydrocodone combined with acetaminophen (Vicodin). A person can become addicted to opioids if he or she takes an opioid for a long period of time or if he or she takes too much of the opioid.
  • Benzodiazepines are prescription drugs used to treat anxiety, panic attacks, or insomnia. They include medicines such as diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin), and lorazepam (Ativan). A person can become addicted to and feel like he or she needs more of these drugs if the medicine is taken for a long period of time.

Other prescription drugs used to control pain or treat sleeping problems may also cause addiction.

How do I tell if an older adult might be abusing prescription drugs?

If you care for or spend time with an older adult, pay attention to his or her medicines and behavior. A person who is addicted to a prescription drug may:

  • Get a prescription for the same medicine from two different doctors
  • Fill a prescription for the same medicine at two different pharmacies
  • Take more of a prescription medicine than they used to or take more than is instructed on the label
  • Take the medicine at different times or more often than is instructed on the label
  • Have behavior changes, such as becoming more withdrawn or angry
  • Often think or talk about a medicine
  • Be afraid to go without taking a medicine
  • Be uncomfortable or defensive when you ask about the medicine
  • Make excuses for why they need a medicine
  • Store "extra” pills in their purse or in their pocket
  • Sneek or hide medicine
  • Have been treated for alcohol, drug, or prescription drug abuse in the past

Bibliography

See a list of resources used in the development of this information.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 10/15
Created: 02/12

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Prescription Drug Abuse in the Elderly

Overview

Symptoms

Causes & Risk Factors

Treatment