Blog Nursing Home Abuse Center Blog
An elderly man drinks from a bottle of alcohol

3 Min Read

Substance Abuse in Nursing Homes

Substance abuse in nursing homes — among both elderly and younger residents — is a big concern across the country. Nursing home staff members can also have substance abuse problems, which in turn affects the care residents receive. Learn more about this life-threatening problem and how to stay safe.

Substance Abuse in Nursing Homes Explained

Substance abuse in nursing homes relates to three separate groups of people.

These groups include:

  • Seniors: As aging baby boomers seek long-term care, the instances of drug and alcohol abuse in nursing homes may increase. Notably, seniors who face significant life changes like loss of a spouse may develop substance abuse problems.
  • Younger people: Non-seniors often live in nursing homes while recovering from an addiction, but they could relapse during their stay.
  • Nursing home employees: Staff members can struggle with substance abuse while they care for residents. In some cases, employees who have substance abuse problems may commit nursing home abuse or neglect.

See how substance abuse affects each group below.

Seniors in Nursing Homes

While substance abuse is dangerous for any age person, it’s especially risky for the elderly.

Many seniors take sleeping pills, painkillers, or antidepressants to manage existing health problems. Without proper supervision from nursing home staff, seniors may mix their medications with alcohol and other drugs, leading to injury or even death.

Sadly, alcohol and prescription drug abuse among seniors is increasing at an alarming rate.

Did You Know

Dr. Alison Moore with UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine reports that 10-15% of people begin drinking excessively in old age.

In light of this, nursing home employees need to make sure elderly patients with addiction are getting the treatment they need and are monitored to prevent life-threatening complications.

Younger Residents

Sometimes nursing homes take in younger people recovering from substance abuse. Since these patients are at a higher risk of relapse, nursing home staff members should keep a close watch on them — but this does not always happen.

In 2016, five people in Chicago overdosed on heroin while staying at a nursing home. While all five survived, two residents overdosed a second time when they returned to the nursing home. In both cases, nursing home neglect prevented these residents from staying safe.

In extreme cases, patients with substance abuse problems can die in nursing homes if the staff fails to properly treat the addiction.

Nursing Home Staff Members

Especially frightening is the thought that those hired to care for your loved one might be coming to work incapacitated from drug or alcohol use. This is especially of concern with lower-tiered nursing homes that may not conduct proper drug tests for new or existing employees.

In one tragic case in Canada, a mentally ill nursing home employee who abused alcohol killed eight patients and attempted to murder four others by injecting too much insulin into their IVs.

While this is an extreme example, staff members who are addicted to drugs and alcohol can still leave residents with nursing home injuries due to abuse or neglect.

Protect Against Substance Abuse in Nursing Homes

Substance abuse in nursing homes is dangerous for many reasons — but there are ways you can stay safe.

If you are a nursing home resident, you can:

  • Maintain contact with friends and family as you recover from addiction in a nursing home
  • Report possible signs of substance abuse by staff members to trusted loved ones
  • Request to move to a different nursing home if you feel unsafe

You also take action if someone you love is in a nursing home.

Family members and loved ones can:

  • Check up on nursing home residents regularly
  • Look for possible signs of relapse or addiction (such as lack of self-care, mood swings, and withdrawal from others)
  • Move a resident to an addiction treatment center or recovery program if needed
  • Note any possible signs of nursing home abuse or neglect and report them to authorities

For addiction treatment, call 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Call 911 in the event of a life-threatening emergency or an overdose.

Finally, it’s important to note that nursing home staff members have a duty to keep residents safe. If they failed to properly address a substance abuse problem, you might be able to hold them accountable. Get a free case review to learn more.

Nursing Home Abuse Support Team

The Nursing Home Abuse Center (NHAC) was founded to bring justice to those affected by nursing home and elder abuse. Our mission is to educate and empower victims of abuse and their families to take a stand against this unlawful mistreatment. We work to return dignity back to those who have been broken down by nursing home abuse and neglect.

  1. Addictions and Recovery. (n.d.). Relapse Prevention Plan and Early Warning Signs. Retrieved from:
  2. LeBel, J. (2018, Jul 26). College of Nurses of Ontario knew Elizabeth Wettlaufer was an alcoholic since 1995: Caressant Care lawyer. Retrieved from:
  3. Bebinger, M. (2020, July 17). 29% Of Mass. Nursing Homes Refused Patients Who’ve Used Opioids, Study Finds. Retrieved from:
  4. Hale, D. and K. Marshall. (2017, Nov/Dec). Substance Abuse in Older Adults. Number 10 (Vol 35). 568 - 569. Retrieved from:
  5. Jackson, D. and G. Marx (2016, Nov). Chicago nursing home fined after residents overdose on heroin. Retrieved from:
  6. Kaldy, J. (2010, Oct). Long-Term Care May Call for Substance Abuse Care. Issue 10 (Vol. 11). P. 1. Retrieved from
  7. Lundstrom, M. and P. Reese. (2016, Apr 3). Shifting population in California nursing homes creates ‘dangerous mix.’ Retrieved from: