abuse has been identified as the most frequently cited risk
factor associated with elder abuse and neglect. It may be
the victim and/or the perpetrator who has the substance
abuse problem. Substance abuse is believed to be a factor
in all types of elder abuse, including physical mistreatment,
emotional abuse, financial exploitation, and neglect. It
is also a significant factor in self-neglect.
and practitioners have observed the following patterns with
respect to perpetrators of elder abuse who abuse drugs or
with alcohol or substance abuse problems may view older
family members, acquaintances, or strangers as easy targets
for financial exploitation. The perpetrator may be seeking
money to support a drug habit or because they are unable
to hold a job and have no source of income.
may move into an older person's home and use it as a base
of operation for drug use or trafficking.
research on domestic violence shows that abusive partners
are more likely to be violent while they're under the
influence of drugs or alcohol. The relationship between
domestic violence and substance abuse, however, is not
fully understood. Although it has been assumed that alcohol
and drugs reduce users' inhibitions, it has also been
observed that perpetrators of domestic violence use drugs
and alcohol to rationalize their behavior.
who are having difficulty coping with the demands of providing
care may use drugs as a misguided coping mechanism.
have observed the following patterns with respect to victims
who abuse drugs or alcohol:
or substance abusing older persons are at risk for several
reasons.They may have substance abuse related impairments,
such as cognitive loss, that reduces their ability to
resist or detect coercion or fraud. Physical disabilities
associated with substance abuse increase risk by rendering
the older person dependant on others for assistance or
care, and giving caregivers physical access to the older
person and their home. Caregivers are also likely to have
access to an older person's financial resources and to
wield significant influence.
may be encouraged to take drugs or drink excessively,
or even forced to do so. A perpetrator's motive may be
to make the older person easier to exploit financially
or, in the case of illegal drug use, less likely to report.
Abusive caregivers may encourage older people to drink
excessively or use drugs to make them more compliant or
easier to care for.
victims use drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism to
relieve their anxiety and fear.
who have longstanding alcohol or substance abuse problems
are likely to have poor relationships with their families
or to be estranged entirely. If the older person needs
care, their family members may be unwilling to help or
may harbor resentments that impede their ability to provide
persons who self-neglect are likely to have substance
abuse or alcohol problems.
for learning more about the relationship between substance
abuse and elder abuse:
Abuse & Substance Abuse: Making the Connection. An interview
with Charmaine Spencer and Jeff Smith. in nexus, a
Publication for NCPEA Affiliates. April 2000. Click
here to view.
D., & Spencer, C. (1999). The role of alcohol in elder
abuse cases. In J. Pritchard (Ed.). Elder abuse work:
Best practices in Britain and Canada. London: Jessica
Updated March 2003