Myths and Realities

Myths and Realities of Alcohol, Medications, and Mental Health Issues in Senior Adults

Many people have misconceptions about the problems of substance abuse and mental health in older adults. Lack of correct information can prevent older adults from seeking and receiving help for these problems. Learning what is reality and what is a myth can help improve the quality of life for you or someone you care about.

MYTH
Only older adults who consistently drink a lot of alcohol have an alcohol problem.

REALITY
The key point in determining a problem is how the alcohol affects the person’s heath, functioning, and relationships with others. For example, in persons with medical conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure, even one drink per day can be a problem.

MYTH
Over-the-counter medicines and alcohol can be used together safely.

REALITY
It is never safe to drink alcohol while taking medicine. BOTH prescription and over-the-counter medicines can intensify the effects of alcohol. This can be dangerous or even fatal. In addition, using medicines and alcohol together, even several hours apart, can change a drug’s effects. For example, the drug might not work.

MYTH
If alcohol and medication misuse were a problem, the doctor would tell the older adult.

REALITY
Unfortunately, many doctors and other health professionals do not ask questions about the use of alcohol with medications. Therefore, older adults are at risk for harmful interactions of alcohol with medications. It is important for them to let their doctor know what drugs they are taking and how they use alcohol.

MYTH
It’s easy to tell when an older adult has an alcohol problem.

REALITY
The symptoms of alcohol abuse are sometimes mistaken for signs of aging or physical illness. Alcohol abuse can mimic or intensify the signs and symptoms of many illnesses. In addition, medical problems can mask alcohol dependence.

MYTH
Treating substance abuse problems in older adults is a waste of time and effort. It’s too late for them to change.

REALITY
Substance abuse interventions and mental health treatments are effective with older adults. They can greatly improve quality of life.

Source: The above information is taken from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration on Aging and The National Council on Aging.

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