What to Ask: Drug and Substance Abuse

The abuse and misuse of alcohol or drugs was once considered a problem only among the young. Unfortunately, substance abuse has become a growing problem among older adults as well. Community surveys suggest that misuse of alcohol or other drugs is a common cause of physical and mental health problems in older Americans, especially older men. Older adults are particularly vulnerable to the mental and physical effects of these substances, because of the changes that happen in our minds and bodies as we age.

Click on each of the topics below to display questions you can ask the healthcare provider about alcohol and substance use problems.

Questions about Alcohol Use

  1. Does my body handle alcohol differently as I get older?
  2. Do different ethnic groups handle alcohol differently?
  3. How much is it safe for an older adult to drink each day?
  4. Is it true that drinking fine wines is safer than cheap spirits?
  5. What are the bad effects on older adults of too much alcohol?  Does it affect:
    • my ability to concentrate?
    • my sexual function?
    • my blood pressure?
    • my bone strength and contribute to osteoporosis?
    • my mood?  Does it make depression worse?
  6. Is there an increased risk of stroke in heavy drinkers and alcoholics?
  7. I'm having an upset stomach and heartburn a lot these days. Could this be because I'm drinking more alcohol?
  8. Can alcohol affect the other medicines I'm taking?
  9. I'm an older diabetic. Can alcohol affect my blood sugar?
  10. Can alcohol affect my balance and make falling more likely?
  11. Does drinking alcohol in the evening affect sleep?
  12. I had a few drinks last night, and today I can't remember what I did for most of the evening. Should I worry about this?
  13. Does being an alcoholic shorten your life?
  14. Can counseling help an older adult to stop drinking alcohol?
  15. Is it possible for an older person who is a heavy drinker to change?
  16. Our family doctor says I shouldn't worry about my parents drinking too much since they moved to a senior residence, but I'm not satisfied with this. What should I do to help them?

Questions about Other Drug and Substance Use

  1. I enjoy a cigarette when I have a drink. How does that affect my health?
  2. Can the medications I am using for pain lead to substance abuse?
  3. Am I as susceptible to substance abuse as someone much younger than me?
  4. I've been using medications to help me sleep for a long time. Can I become addicted to them? How can I tell?