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Medication Misuse, Abuse, and Addiction

Image shows an older woman pouring a large number of pills from an prescription bottle into her hand.

For a variety of reasons, older adults may be more likely to misuse some medications. Body changes as we age can change how we process medications and put us at higher risk for addiction. Further, issues with vision, hearing and brain function can affect our ability to hear and understand directions from our health care providers. Misuse sometimes can lead to drug abuse or addiction.

Medication misuse includes:

  • Taking more or less of a prescription medication than prescribed;
  • Taking a prescription medication for a reason different than what is was prescribed for; or
  • Sharing or taking someone else’s prescription medication (with or without their permission).

Signs of abuse or addiction include:

  • Changes in expected emotional response and rapid mood swings;
  • Dramatic changes in sleep patterns;
  • Unexplained missing personal items and money;
  • Frequent doctor visits;
  • Sudden dramatic weight loss;
  • Constipation without reasonable explanation;
  • Small or pinpoint pupils;
  • Smoking or frequent abuse of alcohol;
  • Aggressive behavior to obtain prescriptions;
  • Sharing medications;
  • Increasing dose without discussing with a health care provider; and
  • Personal or family history of substance abuse.

If you feel that you or a loved one is at risk of medication misuse, may already be misusing medications or exhibits signs of addiction, talk to your health care provider immediately.