How To Stay Aware of Substance Abuse: Senior Living

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According to the 2001 Census, there were 92,000 seniors, age 50 and older, in Washington, D.C. and as many as 17% of these seniors are affected by substance abuse. This is called the Silent Epidemic. The Silent Epidemic impacts District seniors who abuse alcohol and prescription drugs. An alarming number of seniors in the metropolitan area are engaging in various self-destructive forms of substance abuse.

In response to a need for action, Substance Abuse Awareness for Seniors was created by the District of Columbia Department of Health Addiction Prevention and Recovery Administration. SAAS offers education, advocacy, and counseling services for seniors living with chemical dependency.

Substance abuse problems often go undetected by seniors or their family members; therefore, it is very important for seniors to carefully monitor the use of both prescription and non-prescription medicines and to strictly limit their alcohol intake. Keeping a list of all medication that includes dosage requirements can help seniors keep track of their medications and avoid dangerous interactions. Consulting a physician or pharmacist concerning potential interactions between prescription medications and over-the-counter drugs is also important.

A healthcare professional can also help you make the decision whether or not alcohol is safe for you to drink. Alcohol can cause dangerous interactions with many prescription and over-the-counter medications. Because of how our metabolism changes with age, seniors are unable to process alcohol as effectively as younger people.

Although alcohol on special occasions or in moderation may be fine, it is very risky for people with dementia, diabetes, liver disease, and high blood pressure. Alcohol can also cause falls, insomnia, and heart problems.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the maximum recommend drinking limits for adults age 65 and older are one drink per day for men and less than one drink per day for women. One drink is equivalent to one 12 oz. can of beer, a 1.5 oz. shot of hard liquor, a 5 oz. glass of wine, or a 4 oz. glass of sherry, liqueur, or aperitif.

If you are a senior living with chemical dependency or you are concerned about a loved one, SAAS can help you and your family to face the problem and develop an appropriate plan of action. When confronting a loved one about their problem, be sure to explain to them why you feel they need help, and let them know how much you care about them. It is important for individuals who are suffering with chemical dependency to realize that there is a wealth of community resources available to help them.

Community Resources for Seniors with Chemical Dependency:

Substance Abuse Awareness for Seniors
D.C. Department of Health
202-442-9171

National Drug and Alcohol Referral Line
1-800-821-4357

“Prescription Medicines and You” (a free publication)
1-800-358-9295

D.C. Department of Mental Health-Access Helpline
1-888-793-4357

Area Office on Aging
202-724-5626

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