Substance Use and Older Adults

Substance Use and Older Adults

Senior men walking in fall leaves

Substance misuse in Vermonters age 65 and older is increasing and the older adult population is continuing to grow. There is an increased need for awareness of unhealthy substance use, identify risks, and treatment and recovery services. As we age, changes in the body such as lower water content, less-efficient metabolism and excretion and increased brain sensitivity may cause alcohol and other drugs to have a stronger effect.

Alcohol

National data shows that Vermonters 65 and over drink alcohol at higher rates compared to the country overall. This has led to an increase in alcohol use disorders among this population. 

How does alcohol affect you as you age?

  1. Decreased tolerance: Aging lowers the body’s tolerance for alcohol. Older adults generally become intoxicated and impaired with fewer drinks. This puts older adults at higher risks for falls and other injuries and health problems.
  2. Increased health problems: Certain health problems are common in older adults. Drinking more than the recommended guidelines can make these problems worse, such as diabetes, liver problems, memory problems, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and heart disease. For older adults who have dementia or are taking medications that interact with alcohol there is no safe level of alcohol use. 
  3. Medication interaction: Many prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, and herbal remedies can be harmful or even deadly when mixed with alcohol. Alcohol could alter the effect of some medications either preventing the desired effect or dangerously magnifying it. Among the highest risk medications to take with alcohol are prescribed medications for pain, sleep or anxiety. 

Opioids & Benzodiazepines

How does taking both opioids and benzodiazepines affect you as you age?

Aging makes your body more sensitive to medications. Aging makes it harder for your body to process medications. This means that it takes less to create a risk of a medical emergency, such as an overdose or other harmful effects. Opioids and benzodiazepines can have health risks that increase when they are taken together.

Taking opioids and benzodiazepines together, even for a short time, can increase risk of a medical emergency such as loss of consciousness, confusion or memory loss, slow or difficult breathing, extreme sleepiness and death.

Cannabis

Cannabis use has increased among all age groups in Vermont, including older adults. Half of older adults that use cannabis also drink alcohol at a risk level.

VT Helplink logo - vthelplink.org - 802-565-LINKTreatment & Recovery Services

Alcohol and other drug treatment and recovery services should be age-specific, embedded in medical settings and integrated with other health and social services. Visit VTHelplink.org or call 802-565-LINK (or toll-free 833-565-LINK) to find services that are right for you or your patient.