Prescription and Illicit Drug Abuse

Preventing Substance Abuse

Many Reasons for Abuse

Drug abuse, whether prescription or illicit drugs, can have serious consequences, particularly for older adults. That is why prevention is key. However, there are many different reasons why people abuse drugs and become addicted to them. These reasons need to be taken into account when considering how to best prevent drug abuse. Family members, friends, pharmacists, and health care providers can all be involved in preventing drug abuse among older adults.

Preventing Medication Abuse

There are steps that you as a patient can take to prevent abuse of prescription medications and its consequences.

For tips on safe use of medicines for older adults, see “Taking Medicines Safely."

Preventing Illicit Drug Use

Preventing illicit drug use in older adults requires first knowing what contributes to it. For people of all ages, an individual’s biology (including their genetics) and the environment, as well as how the two act together, determine a person’s vulnerability to drug abuse and addiction -- or can protect against it. For example, being exposed to drugs of abuse in youth, living in a community where drug use is prevalent, having untreated mental disorders, such as depression, or dealing with difficult transition periods such as retirement or loss of a spouse can all make an older adult more vulnerable to drug abuse.

Prevention Requires Various Approaches

Prevention efforts must focus on gaining a better understanding of the factors that promote illicit drug use in older adults. Prevention also includes finding ways to stop drug use before it worsens and leads to health problems, including addiction. Family members can play an important role by being aware of an older relative’s well-being and possible drug abuse, and stepping in to help at an early stage, if necessary. Doctors should ask their older patients about potential drug abuse and make referrals as needed.