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``Early-onset'' substance-abusers, accounting for about two-thirds of older abusers, develop problems with alcohol or other drugs early in life.
The other one third of abusers, ``late-onset'' abusers, develop substance-abuse problems later in life, frequently after a loss such as the death of a spouse or in post-retirement years when the pain of boredom, loneliness or depression may occur.
Some of the following are possible indicators of alcohol abuse or dependency:
-- Drinking or other drug use is starting to cause problems in any area of the person's life.
-- Once the individual starts drinking, they are unable to stop.
-- An increased need for alcohol or other drugs over time in order to experience the ``high'' that accompanies substance use.
-- A pattern of craving, obsession and preoccupation with alcohol or drugs.
Because alcohol is metabolized more slowly in older individuals, its effect, even in small amounts, can be much more pronounced as compared to the effects of the same amount of alcohol in someone who is younger.
Slurred speech, imbalance and falls, daytime sleepiness and forgetfulness are often attributed to aging, but can be related to alcohol or drug abuse. Other signs of abuse in older people may include a deterioration in personal appearance, onset or increase of difficulties with such medical problems as diabetes and hypertension, frequent hostility, suspiciousness and lack of interest in things that were previously rewarding.
Alcohol can interfere with the effectiveness of certain prescribed medications, and any individual taking medication should consult his or her physician concerning possible interaction with alcohol.
Fortunately, there are treatment strategies to assist people with alcohol and/or other drug problems. Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous are available in most communities. Additionally, substance-abuse rehabilitation programs staffed with specialists in alcohol and drug abuse are often available through hospitals, clinics and other facilities.
Family members have a very important role in the treatment of elderly alcoholics. Along with support, education about substance abuse is needed.
Help and preventive measures are available for older adults with substance-abuse problems, and efforts to provide assistance for these problems are often successful.
(The Cox web site is at http://www.coxnews.com )
c.2003 Cox News Service