Tips to Stay Sober Through New Year’s and Beyond

Developing an addiction to alcohol or drugs is easy. It’s getting sober again that’s the hard part. Although there are countless resources available, part of the complex nature of addiction is that recovery requires so many different components, and even after receiving treatment it takes ongoing conviction to stay sober. However, it’s not actually as bleak or hopeless as it may sound.

Like any new lifestyle or habit, it simply takes time to adjust and become reacquainted with oneself while free from alcohol and drugs as well as strategies in place to safeguard one’s sobriety during those occasional times when it may be tested.

Sober Holiday Celebrations Are Achievable

Most people associate the holidays with indulgence and jovial celebrations. While it can still be that way for those in recovery, it also goes without saying that it’s a much different type of indulgence and celebration when you’ve had an addiction and gotten your sobriety back through the hard-won journey of recovery.

Therefore, it’s important for anyone in recovery from alcoholism or drug addiction to know what to do when holiday festivities put them in tempting situations. Staying sober through New Year’s requires thought and planning. Here are tips for enjoying an alcohol- and drug-free holiday season.

1. Limit Time Spent with Non-Sober Friends

Anyone who has gone through the recovery process can verify that there are many people who are supportive of newfound sobriety and, inevitably, some who don’t understand it. Those who don’t understand tend to have the least experience with addiction, which means they can’t fathom how a person could be unable to control his or her alcohol consumption or drug use.

This can be frustrating, but there’s not much to do in such a situation except to avoid time spent with those who aren’t understanding of your being in recovery. It doesn’t mean you can’t spend plenty of time with them, but it’s obviously going to be best to gracefully bow out of accompanying them to any events that involve more than one kind of Christmas spirit.

2. Arrive Early, Leave Early

If you’ve ever been a college student or enthusiastic substance abuser, you’ll know that whether you’re hitting the bars or going to parties, it tends to be that things get increasingly more exciting as the evening matures. The main reason for this is quite simple: when it gets to be later, it means that everyone is already pretty inebriated because they have been imbibing for a while already.

If your intent is to protect your sobriety, it’s a good idea to plan to arrive early and leave before the drinking or drug use commences. You might miss all the “excitement,” but it’s also likely to be the kind of excitement that requires a near-comatose level of intoxication to enjoy.

3. Be Prepared to Make a Quick Exit if Necessary

Try as we might, there’s just no possible way to be prepared for every possible outcome in every given situation. It’s inevitable in life that we’re going to find ourselves in situations we would never have expected, and this applies as much to people in addiction recovery as anyone else; perhaps even more so.

You may think you’ve strategically planned your holiday festivities in such a way as to prevent yourself from encountering any sticky situations, but you should always have an exit strategy for the remote chance that you would come face to face, so to speak, with the substance to which you were previously addicted. So do yourself a favor and, especially when you’re attending holiday gatherings, be prepared to make a swift exit if it comes to that. As the saying goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

4. Create New, Sober-Friendly Traditions

While it’s good to have an exit strategy and to plan to attend holiday festivities before the booze is brought out, there’s also the possibility of ruling out the possibility of unexpected temptation altogether by hosting your own holiday event or events. There are seemingly limitless possibilities as to what your event might entail. For instance, you could invite friends over for a night of baking ten different types of cookies or have an open ice cream bar for everyone to make their own sundaes, or have the family come over to help you decorate your tree. Who knows? You might even start a new, sober tradition.

5. Drive Separately

Here’s a tip that you may not think about, but it’s extremely helpful. Driving separately rather than riding with others will mean that you could very well get stuck in a place where, for sobriety’s sake, you really shouldn’t be. Instead of being at the mercy of someone else’s schedule, you can choose to leave any time you please, which could even be the difference between saving your sobriety and having a relapse.

6. Say “No, Thank You”

If you’re someone of an extremely strong will, who has absolutely no problem resisting the temptation that comes with being offered the substance of your previous addiction, saying, “No, thank you,” is another potential solution. Granted, even with an ironclad will it’s still a gamble, but it’s a good one to keep in your back pocket just in case.

7. BYOA (Bring Your Own Alternatives)

Mixed drinks. They’re incredibly popular and bring an insane amount of variety to alcohol consumption. Some are simple, containing only a couple ingredients and perhaps a garnish while others have more than a handful of different liquors in very specific ratios.

If you’re someone who’s in recovery and can’t drink alcohol, there’s actually a way for you to enjoy the same mixed drinks as everyone else: Simply bring your own alternatives or B.Y.O.A. Obviously, these alternatives are non-alcoholic such as tonic water, club soda, or even something like Sprite.

While this strategy will allow you to continue participating, it’s obviously a bit more difficult at events where the other partygoers are drinking significantly more than a cocktail or two.

8. Donate Your Party Time by Volunteering

Here’s another option that’s infrequently considered: Ditch the booze-laden holiday festivities altogether and do something selfless such as volunteering. There are always many opportunities for volunteering, especially around the holidays. Whether it’s at a soup kitchen, wrapping gifts for Toys for Tots, or organizing a food drive, the feeling of helping others in need is a high in and of itself.

9. Plan Ahead

Executing most of the tips to stay sober through New Year’s and the rest of the year will require varying levels of foresight, so that makes planning ahead important by default. For instance, you can’t bring your own alternatives if you didn’t plan ahead by picking up some club soda to take to your company’s Christmas party. Planning is an essential part of recovery and is essential to retain your sobriety throughout the holidays.

10. Hit Some Extra Meetings

Last but certainly not least, attending some extra meetings as you head into the holiday season is always a great idea. In fact, this is a great idea year-round, but it’s especially beneficial in times when you feel your hold on sobriety is especially tenuous, including during any times of stress, worry, and during the holidays. Be sure to get some rest.

Call Us and Start Your Journey to Sobriety Today

If you or someone you love would benefit from a free consultation with one of our recovery specialists, call Pathway to Hope at 844-311-5781. Whether it’s day or night, we’re always available to help you or your loved one get back to a life of happiness, health, and fulfillment.


Why Synthetic Heroin Is More Deadly Than Heroin

We all take our chances when we use any drug—legal or illegal, over-the-counter, or prescription. But one of the real risks of taking street drugs is not knowing exactly what you’re getting or how powerful it is. It is not always known how pure the street substance is or isn’t. And that’s definitely the case with synthetic heroin.

What Is Synthetic Heroin?

Synthetic heroin can be several things, but none of it is real heroin, the illegal opiate drug made from morphine that is taken from the seed pod of the Asian opium poppy plant. Synthetic heroin is a man-made opioid drug. It contains no opium, which is one way it differs from real heroin. So, in other words, real heroin, which comes from a plant, is replaced by man-made analogs that are more addictive, deadly, and harder to track down.

The term synthetic heroin could refer to a combination of natural heroin that’s been mixed with fentanyl, an opioid that is similar to morphine but 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. When fentanyl is prescribed to relieve pain in safe dosages, it can be effective. According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the 700-plus fentanyl-related overdoses that occurred between 2013 and 2015 is mostly linked to fentanyl that was not produced by a pharmaceutical company.

Synthetic heroin also can refer to a substance that is mislabeled as “heroin” but is entirely made up of nothing but fentanyl, or the animal sedative carfentanil, a derivative of fentanyl. The list of opioids that also could fall under the synthetic heroin label include:

  • Hydromorphone (brand name Dilaudid)
  • Methadone
  • Tramadol
  • Pethidine

Fentanyl-Laced Drugs Cause Spikes in Overdose Deaths

According to the DEA’s 2016 report on the heroin threat in the United States, several states started to report spikes in overdose deaths due to fentanyl and its analog acetyl-fentanyl in late 2013. It writes in the report, “Fentanyl is much stronger than heroin and can cause even experienced users to overdose. Between 2013 and 2014, there was a 79 percent increase in deaths related to synthetic opioids, the category under which fentanyl falls. There were 5,544 synthetic-opioid-related deaths in 2014, and the true number is most likely higher because of non-standardized reporting and because many coroners’ offices and state crime laboratories initially did not test for fentanyl or its analogs unless given a specific reason to do so.”

Why Do People Use Synthetic Drugs?

As dangerous as they are, there are several reasons why synthetic drug use is popular. The most common one is that people seek these potent substances because they’re potent and the highs last longer. According to, more than 200 synthetic drug compounds have been identified. Many of them are made abroad in other countries and then smuggled inside the United States. The site lists anxiety, aggressive behavior, paranoia, seizures, loss of consciousness, nausea, vomiting, coma, and death as effects that result from synthetic drug use.

Brookings explains in its April 2018 article titled, “How Synthetic Opioids Can Radically Change Global Illegal Drug Markets and Foreign Policy,” why the synthetic opioid trade appeals to the people who participate in it. Making synthetic opioids requires a smaller labor force, it reports, and it takes far less work than cultivating the poppy plant and collecting its resin for heroin. Brookings also writes that because less labor is required, it also means the benefits of production are lower in poor areas. Synthetic drugs also can be produced just about anywhere, meaning any place is ripe for opportunity.

In a March 2018 press release, the CDC reported that drug overdoses killed 63,632 Americans in 2016. “Nearly two-thirds of these deaths (66 percent) involved a prescription or illicit opioid,” it said.

According to its analysis of 2016 U.S. drug overdose data, “The recent increases in drug overdose deaths are driven by continued sharp increases in deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone, such as illicitly manufactured fentanyl (IMF).”

The synthetic class of drugs, which are also known as designer drugs, includes:

Synthetic marijuana. This is not real marijuana and it is also known as cannabinoids. It is known on the streets as K2 and Spice. reports that there are about 90 different synthetic marijuana chemical compounds.

Synthetic LSD. This drug, a phenethylamine, is said to mimic the effects of actual LSD and causes hallucinations and paranoia. Street names for it include “N-Bomb” and “Smiles.”

Synthetic stimulants. These are popularly known as “bath salts” or “Molly.” They are also called cathinones and mimic the effects of MDMA or ecstasy.

Synthetic PCP. This synthetic compound, known as MXE or Methoxamine, mimics the effects of PCP (phencyclidine). Delusions, a sense of detachment, and psychosis are effects of using this drug.

When it comes to synthetic heroin, there are a few more things to know.

It Is Hard to Tell Synthetic Heroin From Real Heroin

The appearance of synthetic heroin makes it tricky to identify, which is why so many people are not aware that they have used it. A powder that looks like heroin could have been cut or laced with fentanyl or another synthetic opioid. A person buying prescription pills off the streets with a certain label actually could be buying another substance entirely.

The practice of cutting synthetic heroin with fentanyl and other harmful substances increases profits for sellers in the illicit market because it increases their drug supply. But for users who get ahold of these cut batches of drugs only increase their chance of overdosing. The substance is in part stronger because some dealers may not have the equipment to measure out levels of the drug that could result in an overdose. Illegally made fentanyl also can be unpredictable as the pharmaceutical version of it.

Synthetic Heroin Is More Addictive Than Heroin

Natural heroin is a strong, addictive drug in its own right. The substance can be eaten, smoked, snorted, or injected for the highs it brings. Users report feeling an immediate, intense, and pleasurable rush as the drug enters the brain and returns to its morphine state. Regular heroin use is quickly habit-forming, and chronic heroin use results in addiction for most people. However, an addiction to synthetic heroin, which, again, might not be heroin at all, presents a different set of challenges. It’s already difficult to end addiction to heroin. But synthetic heroin is another battle altogether and a person can have an even tougher time ending their dependence on that drug.

Synthetic Heroin May Not Respond Well to Overdose-Reversal Drugs

Synthetic heroin and other synthetic opioid drugs are stronger than natural heroin, which means life-saving overdose agents like naloxone aren’t as effective. Multiple doses may be required to bring around a person who has overdosed, and as an August 2017 Bloomberg article notes, multiple applications of overdose-reversal agents can drain health care resources.

“Hospitals and emergency-services agencies across the U.S. are confronting higher bills for the chemical compound that can block the effects of painkillers and heroin, as super-strong synthetic opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil grow increasingly popular,” the article says. “Not only are more doses of the remedy often required, prices for some brands of naloxone have been ticking up.”

According to the report, the National Association of EMS Physicians says the number of people who receive more than one dose of naloxone has grown more than 25 percent since 2012.

The fact that these overdose-reversal medications may not work as well, if at all, makes synthetic heroin more lethal and dangerous. If one does overdose on a substance that has been passed off as heroin but isn’t, the person could die. They also can have a harder time ending their addiction.

About China White

The name “China White” emerges when synthetic heroin comes up. The designer drug China White, a fat-soluble pain reliever, is said to be stronger than morphine, heroin, or fentanyl. It also is said to last much longer than any of these drugs.

China White has been described as a heroin-like drug that actually is a derivative of fentanyl. But Dr. Wilfredo Lopez-Ojeda, a biomedical sciences professor at the University of Central Florida, told that the substance popularly known as China White doesn’t exist. He explained, “What gave rise to China White is a mixture of the original fentanyl with perhaps some residues of heroin and maybe some cocaine, then they started referring to it as a more pure product. But the truth is such a thing doesn’t exist.”

Despite this, China White’s side effects are reported to be deadlier and harder to identify. “People high on the drug who enter emergency room may seem like they’re overdosing on heroin or another opioid, but the symptoms are more complicated because fentanyl derivatives are far more powerful,” the publication reports.

Battling a Synthetic Heroin Addiction? Let Us Help

Whether it’s heroin, synthetic heroin, or any other addictive substance, dependence on a drug jeopardizes everything—health, relationships, income, well-being, and more. Battling addiction can be difficult without professional help from trained addiction specialists, but that’s what Pathway to Hope is here for. We can help you.

Pathway to Hope, a Delphi Behavioral Health Group facility, specializes in helping people who are battling substance addiction, whether that substance is legal or illegal. We focus on the roots of your addiction and mental health condition and help you or your loved one start healing from substance abuse and give you the tools to leave it behind for good.

If you or someone you know is struggling with drug abuse, call Pathway to Hope at 844-557-8575 today or contact us online, so we can help you find the right treatment program. Don’t delay. If you need addiction treatment, now is the time to make that important step for your health and your life.

Why Xanax and Driving Don’t Mix

“Driving under the influence” is often synonymous with impaired motorists who’ve had too much alcohol to drink. But a person who operates a motor vehicle under the influence of prescription medication can be just as dangerous behind the wheel as someone who’s thrown back too many beers or cocktails.

This probably happens more than we realize, but as the Governors Highway Safety Association (GSHA) notes in a 2017 report on Drug-Impaired Driving, the public is not as aware of drugged driving or how dangerous it is because it isn’t viewed in the same way that alcohol-impaired driving is.

According to the GHSA, tracking down drug-impaired driving is more complex than tracking down alcohol-impaired driving because:

  • Hundreds of different drugs can impair drivers.
  • Some drugs that can impair driving are illegal to use, some are legal to use under certain conditions, and some are freely available over-the-counter.
  • For many drugs, the relations between a drug’s presence in the body, its effect on driving, and its effects on crash risk are complex, not understood well, and vary from driver to driver.
  • Data on drug presence in crash-involved drivers are incomplete in most jurisdictions, inconsistent from state to state, and sometimes inconsistent across jurisdictions within states.
  • It’s more difficult for law enforcement to detect drug impairment at the roadside than alcohol impairment.
  • Laws regarding driving while under the influence of drugs (DUID) vary across the states.
  • It’s more difficult to prosecute and convict a driver for DUID than for alcohol-impaired driving (DUI).

The report also highlights the complexity of different drugs and the complicated issues they involve when compared to those involving alcohol. Among those reasons are:

  • Data on use by drivers and in crashes are limited for drugs but abundant for alcohol
  • Trends involving driver drug use is increasing while alcohol consumption has been decreasing, according to the report
  • Driving skill impairment varies by drug type, but it’s well-documented for alcohol
  • Driver believes that some drugs don’t impair driving and that there’s low arrest risk, but alcohol does impair drivers
  • Societal attitudes. There are no strong attitudes on drugs and driving, according to the report, but drinking and driving is socially unacceptable for many, and that having a designated driver is the norm

Like Other Drugs, Xanax Use Can Impair Drivers

Potent pain relievers, such as Percocet and OxyContin, and anti-anxiety medications such as Xanax and Ativan, can put drivers—and everyone around them—in a dangerous situation. Even over-the-counter cold medications and antihistamines can cause driver impairment.

Other medications that can impair driving are:

  • Some antidepressants
  • Narcotic pain pills
  • Sleep medications
  • Tranquilizers

In this blog, we’ll take a closer look at Xanax and how using it while driving is probably not a good idea.

What Is Xanax?

Xanax, generically known as alprazolam, is a powerful, fast-acting sedative that is prescribed to treat anxiety associated with panic disorders and different kinds of phobias. The medication is a short-acting benzodiazepine, which means it is quickly effective and peaks quickly in the bloodstream. It can be obtained legally only through a prescription issued by a medical professional. Xanax is among the most prescribed medications in the United States. Data show that the number of benzodiazepine prescriptions written increased 67 percent to 13.5 million per year in 2013 from 8.1 million in 1999, states National Public Radio in its report about the medications.

Xanax works by suppressing the central nervous system. Once the drug binds to certain areas of the brain’s gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors, nerve cell activity slows and users begin to feel calm and relaxed. Relief is usually felt within 15 minutes to an hour after taking it, and this feeling can last for a few hours. writes, “The general consensus among researchers is that the onset of Xanax’s action falls within a range of 15 to 60 minutes. Evidence suggests that approximately 90 percent of the peak effect derived from Xanax should be attained [by most users] within the first hour of its administration.

“Moreover, on average, the maximal peak effect of Xanax will be attained within 0.7 and 1.8 hours after its administration; the compressed tablet (CT) usually kicks in slightly quicker than the extended-release (XR) formula.”

The site also explains that Xanax has a rapid onset of cation because “when [it’s] ingested, it is efficiently absorbed, metabolized, distributed throughout the body tissue, and uptaken with the brain.”

This highly addictive medication is intended for short-term use. If it is taken longer than prescribed or abused, users are at risk of developing a physical and psychological dependence on it. The best way to tell if dependence has occurred is the way one feels when they no longer take the medication or reduce the dosage. If there are noticeable changes, then those are withdrawal symptoms, and users may need to address their Xanax dependence with professional drug treatment.

It is important to note that not all dependence on benzodiazepines such as Xanax happens as a result of misuse, abuse or addiction.

Harris Stratyner, co-chairman of the medical scientific subcommittee of the nonprofit group National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence told Fox News in 2014, “Frequently, it’s not because they’ve been abusing the drugs; it can be caused by following the prescription their doctor gave them.”

Common Concerns About Xanax and Driving

In short, Xanax and driving are not a good mix. That’s likely obvious on the surface, but let’s look at some reasons why.

Xanax Can Slow Your Reaction Time While Driving

HuffPost has reported that Xanax has been called “alcohol in a pill” because of its similarities to the substance, and the publication has listed the anti-anxiety drug as one of six medications that a person should never take when driving. The drug’s tranquilizing effects can affect the reaction time when behind the wheel and it also can impair judgment, which we all need when we’re driving.

Xanax’s powerful effects don’t start to kick in till after a certain window of time, so until they do, users may feel in control of their bodies and faculties. However, after the medication hits peak plasma levels in the blood, the body’s central nervous system starts to respond to the medicine, and that’s when users typically feel drowsiness, lethargy, dizziness, slowed breathing, and/or muscle weakness. They also may have a diminished ability to concentrate and slurred speech, which also happens when someone has alcohol intoxication. While the level of impairment varies by the person, all of these are incompatible with driving or any activity that requires one to be alert.

But here’s another aspect of drugged driving that is kind of alarming. It is possible to take Xanax and not be aware of whether it’s working or not.

When the medication is taken as medically directed by a person who’s healthy, the medication should always work in less than 60 minutes, according to But that’s not true for everyone.

“Despite the fact that Xanax should always take effect within an hour of administration, not all users will be cognizant of its action. Persons who aren’t consciously aware that they’re under the influence of Xanax within one-two hours of administration may wonder whether the drug is actually working,” the site says.

If a person takes Xanax and doesn’t feel it working in that one-hour window, then it’s possible the dosage is too low or the person may have a high tolerance for it.

Driving and Xanax Combo Increases Risks of Car Crashes

Because Xanax impairs judgment and reaction times, people who take the medication are at increased risk of causing an accident. A 2011 study in which researchers examined the link between psychoactive drugs and the risk of traffic accidents found “Benzodiazepine use was associated with a significant increase in the risk of traffic accidents and responsibility of drivers for accidents. The association was more pronounced in the younger drivers. The accident risk was markedly increased by co-ingestion of alcohol.”

Polydrug use is common among people who misuse or abuse substances, and people commonly pair alcohol with benzos like Xanax to either enhance the effects of both drugs for a stronger high or avoid withdrawal effects from drug use. Combining the two is an unsafe practice, and using them together increases the toxicity of alcohol and the chances of having a fatal overdose.

According to, which featured studies examining the relationship between benzodiazepine use and traffic accidents, “more research has to be done to elucidate the relationship between benzodiazepine use and injury severity.”

Still, as research continues, “many drivers do not understand how various drugs can affect driving ability and increase crash risk,” GHSA reports.

Xanax and Driving Can Land You In Legal Hot Water

Driving Under the Influence of Drugs, known as DUID, is illegal in every state and in the same way that driving while impaired by alcohol, or DUI is illegal, writes GHSA. It goes on to explain, “DUID has two requirements: the driver must exhibit signs of impairment through behavior observed by a law enforcement officer and the impairment must be linked to a drug.”

It also explains that there are three types of state laws regarding DUID.

  • Driving Under the Influence of Drugs (DUID): Illegal to drive while impaired by any drug
  • Zero Tolerance: Illegal to drive with any amount of specified drugs in the body
  • Per se: Illegal to drive with amounts of specified drugs in the body exceeding set limits writes, “For many people, the realization that a prescribed medication is impairing their driving only comes after a roadside stop by law enforcement.”

So, What Can Xanax Users Do?

People who take prescription Xanax and need transportation are advised to talk about the medication’s potential side effects with their doctor. A medical professional can provide insight into how best to navigate Xanax use when it comes to driving. The doctor may suggest adjusting the prescribed Xanax dose taken or another medication may be used altogether. Another mode of transportation may also be required, such as a bus, train, cab, or ride-share service.

Start Xanax Addiction Recovery Today

Pathway to Hope, a Delphi Behavioral Health Group facility, specializes in helping people who are battling an addiction to Xanax or any substance, whether it’s legal or illegal. We focus on the roots of your addiction and mental health condition and help you or your loved one start healing from substance abuse and give you the tools to leave it behind for good.

If you or someone you know is struggling with Xanax prescription dependence, whether physical or psychological, call Pathway to Hope at 844-557-8575 today or reach out to us online, so we can help you find the right treatment program. Don’t delay. If you need addiction treatment, now is the time to make that important step for your health and your life.

Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse in the Elderly

As the U.S. grapples with its opioid abuse epidemic, it might come as a surprise that contributing to that crisis are senior adults who are dealing with prescription drug abuse, particularly where opioids are involved.

The nation’s baby boomers—the generation born after World War II between 1946 and 1964—are reportedly the fastest-growing population in the country who are battling opioid dependence and addiction. Their experiences signal to what is to come, observers say. As the U.S. adult population is projected to live longer, it is predicted that more people will battle geriatric substance abuse or addiction as they live out their golden years.

By 2020, the number of American adults who need drug and alcohol rehabilitation treatment is expected to double to about six million. By 2030, older adults will account for roughly 20 percent of the U.S. population, according to a State of Aging and Health in America 2013 report.

Why Senior Prescription Drug Abuse Easy to Miss

The beginnings of senior prescription medication abuse and addiction are easy to go unrecognized or misdiagnosed.

First, older adults buy many prescription medications. Data reported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse show that U.S. residents age 65 and older account for more than one-third of total outpatient spending on prescription medications although they make up only 13 percent of the country’s population.

NIDA also cites research saying that “more than 80 percent of older patients (aged 57 to 85 years) use at least one prescription medication on a daily basis, with more than 50 percent taking more than five medications or supplements daily.”

So, to see an older loved one buy and use these drugs likely won’t raise many eyebrows, especially when the person’s prescription medications come from a reputable doctor’s office.

For adults age 50 and older, misusing or abusing prescription drugs may be related to the natural process of aging. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), this population is said to be at a higher risk for medication misuse than the general population because of their slower metabolism and elimination as well as the higher rates of pain, sleep disorders, and anxiety.

Also, as we age, our memory changes. It becomes common to forget a name or where the keys were last placed as we grow older. The American Psychological Association notes that as the brain changes so does a person’s behavior. An older person may forget how much medication they should be taking or they may forget that they have taken their medication already. They also may mix up medications, which is very common.

Taking any drug, whether legal or illegal, can affect the brain and therefore what a person remembers or how they behave.

However, not all memory loss or forgetfulness in older adults is related to their age. If cognitive difficulties increase after a person chronically misuses their medication, it could be a sign of medication abuse.

Other signs of substance abuse that are commonly confused with aging are:

  • Losing track of time (not remembering what day it is or what time of day it is)
  • Coordination problems (such as walking unsteadily, falling)
  • Chronic, unexplained aches, pains
  • Concentration difficulties
  • Changes in the sleeping schedule (such as sleeping all day, staying up at night), eating habits
  • Unexplained cuts, bruises, marks
  • Mood changes, irritability, sadness, depression, loneliness
  • Lethargy, personality changes, energy levels

If you or an older person you know is exhibiting changes such as these after taking medications, it might be worth looking into how they are taking their medications to ensure they have the right medications and that they are taking those medications properly.

Managing Pain: Is It Start of Geriatric Substance Abuse?

Older people are more susceptible to prescription drug abuse as they try to treat chronic pain ailments.

Nearly half of older U.S. adults have a chronic pain disorder, and the chances of them having chronic pain increase as they age, according to a SAMHSA report. For this reason, doctors are likely to treat older adults’ ailments with medications and more likely to prescribe more than one medication if multiple ailments are present and need treatment.

Seniors with prescription medications for long-term ailments are at risk of using these medications incorrectly. Incorrect use means they may take more than the dose prescribed, whether on purpose or not, or they may inadvertently mix medications with each other. They also may inadvertently mix their prescription meds with alcohol if they still drink. SAMHSA cites data that says the combination of alcohol and medication misuse has been estimated to affect up to 19 percent of older American adults. The interaction of medicines and alcohol can be dangerous. People are advised to avoid alcohol if they are taking a medication and are not aware of the effects it may have on a substance. Keep in mind that alcohol and medications can still cause risky interactions even if they are not taken at the same time. Because older people have a slower metabolism and the body doesn’t break down substances as quickly as they once did, the likelihood that they will mix drugs and alcohol is high.

Senior prescription drug abuse often involves two kinds of medications: opioid pain relievers and benzodiazepines.


Opioid pain relievers are prescribed to treat and manage pain in groups across the age spectrum. Oxycodone (OxyContin), Percocet, hydrocodone, Vicodin, codeine, and many others are among the drugs commonly prescribed for this group. Opioid dependence and addiction are not good for any group, no matter the age. But for seniors, opioid abuse complicates health matters. Many older people who develop a dependence on these potent pain medications first started using them legitimately to manage chronic health problems.

According to data in a report from the Administration on Aging and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the number of older U.S. adults who misuse opioids is projected to double from 2004 to 2020, from 1.2 percent to 2.4 percent.

By the year 2020, the number of addicted older U.S. adults who need drug and alcohol treatment is expected to double to about six million. By 2030, older adults will account for roughly 20 percent of the U.S. population, according to the State of Aging and Health in America 2013 report.

To combat opioid misuse and abuse, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued guidelines for prescribing opioids for chronic pain. The CDC said the guidelines aim to improve communication between healthcare providers and patients about the risks and benefits of opioid therapy for chronic pain in addition to other goals.


Benzodiazepines, or “benzos” for short, are prescribed to treat anxiety, alcohol withdrawal, insomnia, muscle relaxation, and seizures. These medications act on the central nervous system and produce sedation, sleepiness, and muscle relaxation. Widely prescribed benzos include Xanax, Ativan, Klonopin, and Valium.

A March 2018 article in The New York Times called benzo use “a quiet drug problem among the elderly.” “Despite warnings from experts, older people are using more anti-anxiety and sleep medications, putting them at risk of serious side effects and even overdoses,” the article’s opening reads. The report goes on to highlight how using the medications can worsen an already common problem for people in the senior adult population: falls and fractures. Benzos, the article notes, cause dizziness.

“Set aside the opioid issue,” Michael Schoenbaum, an epidemiologist at the National Institutes for Health, told the newspaper for its report. “Way too many older Americans are getting benzos. And of those, many — more than half — are getting them for prolonged periods. That’s just bad practice. They have serious consequences.”

Donovan Maust, a Michigan psychiatrist, told The New York Times that benzodiazepines also negatively affect memory and cognitive function.

Over-the-Counter Medications Also Risky

Abusing medicines doesn’t only involve the ones people have a prescription for. Over-the-counter medications can be abused as well. Always check with your personal doctor to confirm if taking pharmacy-bought medications are OK to use and if so, follow the directions on the label or the ones your doctor fives.

Geriatric Substance Abuse: What Are the Signs?

While it may be challenging to pick up on the warning signs of prescription medications abuse among seniors, there are ways to tell that something is going on. Changes in behavior are a place to start. Warning signs include:

  • Making an effort to get a prescription for a medication from two or more doctors, a practice known as “doctor shopping”
  • Going to two different pharmacies to fill a prescription for the same medication
  • Taking more of a medication than they used to or taking more than is instructed on the label
  • Using the medication in a manner inconsistent with its purpose
  • Taking the medication at different times or more often than instructed on the label or by a physician
  • Becoming withdrawn, isolated or angry
  • Appearing confused or forgetful
  • Talking often about a medication to the point of seeming preoccupied with it
  • Being fearful of going somewhere without taking a medication first
  • Becoming defensive or “touchy” when asked about a medication
  • Giving excuses for why a medication is needed
  • Keeping “extra” pills handy when there appears to be no reason to
  • Sneaking or hiding the medication.
  • Using the medication in secret or privately outside of the knowledge of friends, family
  • Having a history of substance abuse or abusing alcohol, drug, or prescription medications

These warning signs may motivate some people to reach out for help likely after they have been prompted to do so by others. But the reality is some older adults simply won’t receive the help they need for substance abuse disorders involving prescription medication. Many are ashamed and won’t seek professional help because of that shame. Others are in denial and know they need help but won’t reach out to find it. People in both groups may not even realize their misuse or abuse has led to an addiction that requires professional treatment to stop.

Observers say changing the perception of who abuses drugs and alcohol will be important as the nation’s health care professionals work to identify and help older people who are dealing with substance abuse and addiction.

Medical professionals have been advised to look for a personal history or family history of substance abuse of medications when screening older patients. Geriatric substance abuse is not an easy topic to discuss among older populations for various reasons, but having that conversation can be just what’s needed to uncover a problem and help people get the help they need.

Abusing Prescription Drugs and Can’t Stop? We Can Help

Older adults are at a higher risk of misusing or abusing their medications for several reasons, and they may not always be aware when such use is dangerous or has led to a physical or psychological dependence. Substance abuse among the elderly can be difficult to quit without professional help from trained addiction specialists, but that’s what Pathway to Hope is here for. We can help you.

Pathway to Hope, a Delphi Behavioral Health Group facility, specializes in helping people who are battling with substance addiction, whether that substance is legal or illegal. We focus on the roots of your addiction and mental health condition and help you or your loved one start healing from substance abuse and give you the tools to leave it behind for good.

If you or someone you know is struggling with senior prescription drug abuse, call Pathway to Hope at 844-311-5781 today or contact us online, so we can help you find the right treatment program. Don’t delay. If you need addiction treatment, now is the time to make that important step for your health and your life.