Medication Abuse

What does medication abuse look like?

Both over-medication and under-medication are medication abuse, and both are harmful. Seniors often change doctors (thinking a new doctor will prescribe a better pain killer or be more understanding). Seniors may go to different pharmacies. Family members caring for a senior may use medication to have them go to bed earlier, be more “cooperative” or easier to care for.

Seniors often share medications with their spouse, or a close friend, not understanding the full implications of doing so. Some of the confusion seniors show may be due to medication rather than normal aging.

Continuum of Medication Abuse


  • A senior may change doctors and take medication prescribed by both physicians.
  • A family member or care-giver may give medication to a senior to make him/her more “co-operative” or “easier to care for”.
  • A senior may use a spouse’s prescription, not understanding the implications of doing this .
  • A senior may forget a prescription has already been taken, and take the same prescription again.
  • A senior could become addicted to a prescription and take more it often than prescribed, or take double amounts, etc.
  • A normal adult dose prescribed by a physician may be too heavy for the senior.


  • A senior may forget to take the prescription.
  • A senior may insist that the prescription has already been taken.
  • A care-giver is not aware of a senior’s medical needs.
  • A senior runs out of a prescription and forgets to have it renewed.
  • A family member or care-giver withholds necessary medication, or frequently does not administer it when needed.

Medication Abuse Scenarios

Scenario #1

Sandra, a mother of four children, also cared for her aging father who had Alzheimer’s. In order to manage, she sometimes gave him extra medication to make him drowsy and less demanding. As time went on, she began to give her father his medication more often. She found it made her life so much easier.

Scenario #2

David regularly visited his father in the care facility. He noticed that his father slept much more than he had at home. When awake, he appeared more disoriented. David mentioned his concern to the care facility staff person. The staff member said that the man’s doctor had prescribed the medication he was being given. David called the doctor, who reduced the dosage. Within a few days, the father showed a marked improvement.

Scenario #3

Joyce was in severe pain due to an old back injury. In an effort to control the pain, she began doubling her medication as well as taking “over-the-counter” medication. Joyce fell several times, not realizing that the falls could be due to over-medication.