3 Gateway Drugs that Can Lead Older Adults to Addiction

Each year, millions of Americans suffer from addiction to drugs or alcohol. As the nation’s baby boomers begin to retire, some succumb to addiction – either to prescribed medications or to alcohol. This is common even if they didn’t have addiction issues earlier in life. There are several drugs that can effectively serve as gateway drugs leading to elderly addiction, including prescription painkillers, prescription sedatives and alcohol.

Prescription painkillers

Many people become addicted to legally prescribed painkillers that they are given for pain management. Painkillers are opioid drugs that are prescribed by doctors for ailments such as herniated discs, back pain and other assorted problems. Millions of people develop addictions to these substances, including those who are elderly or retired. These painkillers act as gateway drugs for a lot of older adults.

Prescription pain pill addictions are especially problematic, as their pain management function decreases with abuse. People who abuse them can suffer death from overdose. Recovery from painkiller addictions is difficult and the associated withdrawal symptoms can make it difficult for an elderly addicted person without help.

Prescription sedatives

Like painkillers, many elderly and retired persons become addicted to sedatives prescribed to them by their physicians. These include such medications as Valium and Xanax, which are benzodiazepines and serve as tranquilizers, as well as Quaaludes, Mebaral and Nembutal, which are sedatives or sleeping pills. Benzodiazepines are often prescribed in order to reduce muscle spasms, anxiety, panic attacks and aid in sleep, acting as a potent gateway drug.

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Barbiturates are prescribed for sleep disorders to help people fall and stay asleep. Both can be highly addictive to people. As central nervous system depressants, they can leave people with a sense of euphoria. These drugs slow a person’s brain functions and can lead to dilated pupils, slurred speech and other indicators.

As people develop a tolerance to them, they may need to take more of these drugs in order to achieve the same effect, leading to an increased risk of overdose. Like painkiller addictions, many elderly people who have an addiction to sedatives will require help to overcome the addiction, as withdrawal symptoms can include a heightened risk of seizures and other problems.


Alcohol is the most common gateway drug. Many elderly and retired people develop an addiction to alcohol. This can be caused by several things, including loneliness due to the death of a spouse and friends as well as a sense of purposelessness since they are retired and no longer working. As a result, some people begin to drink heavily, developing an addiction to alcohol in an attempt to dull the emotional pain they feel. For someone who has developed a serious addiction to alcohol, recovery may require treatment and support group participation in order to obtain and maintain sobriety.

Addiction problems are not just a young person issue in the United States. Many elderly people also succumb to addictions to various drugs after they retire. Some do so due to depression, while others develop a tolerance to medications initially prescribed for legitimate medical conditions.

Help Is A Call Away.(888) 465-4344i

If you suspect that your elderly or retired relative has developed an addiction to drugs or alcohol, you may want to call our hotline at 800-890-3586. We have staff on hand who are ready and able to help your loved one get the addiction recovery help he or she needs.

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