Drug and Substance Use Disorders


Unless a person tells them, their healthcare professional may not realize a patient has an alcohol or substance use problem. Other factors may hide possible problems: 

  • Having depression, memory problems, or physical disability
  • Failing to consider substance use disorder in older adults
  • Mistaking symptoms for normal signs of aging, or for Alzheimers disease or another dementia. 

Signs of Substance Misuse

  • Increased confusion or memory problems
  • Mood changes (e.g., agitation, depression, anxiety, irritability)
  • Sleep problems (including difficulty breathing) and daytime sleepiness
  • Dizziness
  • Changes in blood pressure
  • Anemia (low blood counts)
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Changes in liver function and other abnormal blood results
  • Poor hygiene or nutrition
  • Falls, bruises, or burns

Signs of Long-term Alcohol Misuse

  • Severe nerve damage
  • Confusion
  • Clumsiness
  • Muscle problems
  • Dementia
  • Coma

Signs of Long-term Smoking

Smoking over a long time can result in lung troubles. For example, a person may have more infections or take longer to recover from them. They may also be short of breath or wheeze more often. Chest pain, called angina, related to coronary heart disease or cancers can happen.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Older adults who abruptly quit using alcohol or other substances have a high risk of severe withdrawal symptoms, including death. Symptoms may include:

  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Feeling hot or cold
  • Delirium
  • Seizures
  • Sudden heart problems
Tell your healthcare provider so you can get help withdrawing safely from the substance you are misusing. They can help you create a plan to avoid misuse in the future.


Last Updated May 2023

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