This article was written by Diana Holmes, a Branch Manager for Caregiver Homes.

As the population ages, there are increased concerns about substance abuse. People are living longer, and many rely on daily medication to maintain their health. These prescription medications can often be addictive and have significant interactions when mixed with even modest amounts of alcohol. It is important to know the warning signs of substance abuse in consumers; around-the-clock caregivers and supportive care teams often have the opportunity to recognize these signs early in the home.

October is National Substance Abuse Awareness month. Nearly 35 million people in the United States are 65 years or older, according to recent census data. Substance abuse, including misuse of prescription drugs, affects 17 percent of people 60 years and older. The number of elders struggling with substance abuse is expected to double by 2020. Medications that have the potential for abuse are termed "controlled substance" and can be prescribed for pain, anxiety or sleep medication. Elders have a reduced ability to metabolize and filter substances, and they can become addicted and have side effects from a lower dose than a younger adult.

While consumers may hide the abuse, live-in caregivers have the ability to observe behavioral changes and potential warning signs of consumer substance abuse. Here are some questions if you suspect a consumer is abusing prescription medication, according to Agingcare.com:

  • Are they giving excuses as to why they need the pills?
  • Do they have a "purse or pocket supply" in case of emergency?
  • Have they ever been treated for alcohol or drug abuse – even earlier in life?
  • Have they received the same pill from two or more physicians or druggists at approximately the same time?
  • Do they become annoyed or uncomfortable when others talk about their use of medications?
  • Do they ever sneak or hide pills?


Treatment should be individualized to each consumer. Caregivers who suspect their loved one may be abusing prescription medication or alcohol should speak to their care team and the consumer's Primary Care Physician (PCP). This support is critical, as it can be difficult to address these concerns with the consumer. The physician can give you a recommendation for treatment, which may include counseling, behavioral therapy, and 12-step meetings. This is a community that is welcoming of newcomers. There are also meetings known as Al-Anon meetings, which provide support to family members.

Individuals struggling with addiction and substance abuse can face a long recovery, but the first step to recovery is identifying and addressing the problem. To find a substance abuse treatment facility, call 1-800-662-4357 or visit www.findtreatment.samhsa.gov. For more information about substance abuse, visit www.drugabuse.gov.