Drug and Substance Use


Symptoms and Warning Signs of Alcohol or Substance Use Disorder

Your healthcare provider may not realize that you are having problems with increased alcohol or substance use unless you or a close friend or family member reports that there is a problem. Your substance use may also be covered up by symptoms from another condition such as depression, memory problems, or physical disability. Some healthcare professionals may not consider substance use disorder in an older person. They may mistake the symptoms for normal signs of aging, or for Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia. 

The first signs of misuse of a medication or alcohol in an older person may include:

  • increased confusion or memory impairment
  • mood changes (e.g., agitation, depression, irritability)
  • sleep problems (including apnea) and daytime sleepiness
  • dizziness
  • changes in blood pressure
  • anemia (low blood counts)
  • fatigue or weakness
  • altered liver function and other abnormal blood results
  • a fall

Long-term alcohol abuse can cause severe nerve damage, confusion, clumsiness, muscle problems, dementia, and coma. Other mental disorders that commonly appear along with alcohol abuse are depression, anxiety, and sleep problems. 

If you have been smoking for many years, lung troubles may become more apparent as you get older. You may have more infections or take longer to recover from them and you may find yourself short of breath or wheezing more often. 

Withdrawal Symptoms

An addiction to alcohol or other substances can put you at risk of severe, even life-threatening withdrawal symptoms if you try to stop using these substances suddenly.  Depending on the substance, withdrawal symptoms may include shaking, sweating, feeling hot or cold, delirium, seizures, or sudden heart problems. For this reason, you must inform your healthcare provider so you can get help withdrawing from your addiction safely and help you create a plan to avoid the addiction in the future.


Last Updated July 2020

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