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There are many possible signs that can indicate that a loved one or family member may be experiencing a substance abuse problem. These signs may be rather subtle or quite obvious at times. Sometimes a family sharing their observations or concerns with their loved one can help their family member see that it may be time for a change. The following are some common substance abuse signs for older adults that concerned families should know about:

  • Mood changes - Irritable, depressed, mood swings
  • Defensive about their use of alcohol or other drugs (e.g., getting angry, denying or underplaying their use, blaming others for their use, etc.)
  • Isolation - Keeping to themselves, not getting out of the home, and avoiding family or friends-particularly in the evening
  • Loss of interest in their hobbies and social or recreational activities
  • Low self esteem - Not feeling good about themselves, lacking "purpose"
  • Poor hygiene - Failure to bathe or house clean
  • Disrupted sleep
  • Poor concentration
  • Memory problems - including alcoholic blackouts
  • Loss of coordination - Unsteady walk or falls, accident prone
  • Concealing alcohol - Hiding bottles of alcohol or hiding alcohol in non-alcohol containers or beverages
  • Tolerance changes - An increase or decrease in the amount of alcohol (or other drug) it takes to achieve the same effect
  • Loss of control - Using more alcohol or pills than intended
  • Withdrawal symptoms - Tremors or other physical symptoms, cravings to drink or use pills, anxiety, etc.