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Loneliness raises prescription drug dangers in seniors

felix gussone

Reviewed by Felix Gussone, MD, written by Health Guide Team

Last updated: Jul 30, 2021
2 min read


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Some people might assume that humans become less sociable as they age. But that’s a misconception, according to researchers at UC San Francisco. Older adults have social needs, but they’re often not satisfied, which can lead to loneliness and social isolation.

What’s more, a new study found that in adults over 65, loneliness can come with a higher rate of prescription medication use. Lonely, older adults are nearly twice as likely to use opioids to ease pain. They’re also two-and-a-half times more likely to use anti-anxiety medications. That’s a problem because these drugs can potentially lead to dependency and falls.

The researchers asked 6,000 seniors if they feel lonely. Just over half of them said they were not lonely, while 40 percent were moderately lonely, and 7 percent were very lonely. The study authors then found a relationship between the degree of loneliness and prescriptions for opioids and sedatives such as Valium, Xanax, and Ambien. Six percent of the non-lonely group used prescription opioids, versus eight percent for the moderately lonely group and 11 percent for the highly lonely group. For anti-anxiety medications and sedatives, 9 percent of the non-lonely group used them, versus 23 percent for the highly lonely group. 

The authors advocate for something called “social prescribing” instead of prescription drugs. “Social prescribing” means directing seniors to local social opportunities such as exercise classes, senior centers, or volunteer programs.


  1. Kotwal, A. A., Steinman, M. A., Cenzer, I., & Smith, A. K. (2021). Use of High-risk Medications Among Lonely Older Adults: Results From a Nationally Representative Sample. JAMA internal medicine, 10.1001/jamainternmed.2021.3775. Advance online publication. Doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2021.3775, Retrieved from: