Author: Gary Jackson

Older Adults National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism NIAAA

The 2018 NSDUH estimated that for adults ages 65 and older the prevalence of alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, and opioid (including prescription opioids) use in the past twelve months were 43 percent, 14 percent, 4.1 percent, and 1.3 percent, respectively. The twelve-month prevalence of alcohol use disorder (AUD) and drug use disorder (DUD) (the NSDUH does not publish disaggregated information on specific drugs for adults ages 65 and older), were 1.6 percent and .4 percent, respectively. These findings are consistent with the results of the National Epidemiological Survey and Related Conditions-III (NESARC-III), which estimated the prevalence of AUD and DUD at 2.3 percent and .8 percent, respectively (Grant et al., 2015; Grant et al., 2016).

substance abuse in older adults

In addition, many older adults have binge drinking issues (five or more standard drinks in one sitting). Almost 20% of men and just over 6% of women in this age group are binge drinkers. Family, friends, and doctors often don’t know when older people have a problem with alcohol and drugs. Sometimes, people notice but ignore it, thinking it’s best for older people to keep doing what makes them happy.

Expert Insights on Addiction and Substance Abuse Prevention for Seniors

Because of the diagnostic challenges outlined earlier, the MAST-G focuses more on potential stressors and behaviors relevant to alcohol use in late life, as opposed to questions toward family, vocational, and legal consequences of use. This tool has many of the advantages of the CAGE, such as ease of administration and low cost. Although useful as an indicator of lifetime problem use, it lacks information about frequency, quantity, and current problems important for intervention. Many believe these structural changes could contribute to a heightened vulnerability toward addiction and other mental health issues. Early intervention strategies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or family counseling may be beneficial for preventing substance abuse issues among those at high risk for developing them.

substance abuse in older adults

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Treating Substance Abuse in Older Adults

However, the Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS), which collects data on publicly funded substance use treatment admissions, found that individuals ages 65 to 69 represented only 1.18 percent of the total admissions. Among those admitted, 38.8 percent were for alcohol, 33 percent for opioids, and 5 percent for cocaine (TEDS-2017, 2017). Older adults have lower prevalence of substance use than younger adults, which may lead clinicians to think that older adults do not use psychoactive substances or develop SUD. Furthermore, recent cohorts of individuals ages 65 and older tend to show a higher prevalence of lifetime substance use than that seen in prior generations (Chhatre et al., 2017). Naltrexone is the most well-studied medication used for SUD treatment among older adults,112 and it has demonstrated some effectiveness with this population. Naltrexone is an opioid receptor antagonist thought to reduce craving and the pleasurable or stimulating effects of alcohol by blocking alcohol-induced dopamine release in the brain.123 It can be taken daily or as needed, although only daily treatment of naltrexone has been tested with older adults.

  • This means that drugs can stay in their system longer and have a more significant effect.
  • It’s especially dangerous because their bodies don’t process drugs as quickly as when they were younger.
  • With age, one departs from these roles naturally in the vast majority of cases, such as through social isolation due to age-group peer mortality or retirement.
  • It’s essential for family members and physicians alike to educate seniors on proper medication usage and side effects so they can avoid any potential misuse down the line.
  • Individuals ages 65 and older have lower odds of perceived treatment need than younger individuals, and often report a lack of readiness to stop using substances as one of their primary reasons to not seek treatment (Choi et al., 2014).
  • Although the rates of SUD and use of drugs and alcohol are generally lower among older adults than the general population, aging itself presents specific risks for harm when considering even minimal amounts of substance use among older adults.

As a result, seniors are at an increased risk for developing substance use disorders and addiction-related behaviors like seeking out drugs despite negative consequences. As people age, their bodies undergo changes that can affect their physical and mental health. Blood flow can decrease, and relationships between neurons can change, influencing cognitive function. Some experience a decrease in serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters responsible for regulating moods and emotions.

Are older adults impacted differently by alcohol and drugs?

In recent years, the number of senior citizens seeking addiction treatment in the United States has skyrocketed. The number of adults aged 55 and over who sought out addiction treatments increased by more than 50 percent between 2009 and 2020. This alarming statistic shows that substance use disorders do not discriminate and can affect any population, including older adults. 8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care. He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture. Potential triggers for late-onset alcoholism and drug abuse (which developed after 65) include retirement, loss of income, death of a loved one, placement in a nursing home or relocation in general, trouble sleeping, and health decline.

Physicians rely on the criteria outlined by the DSM to diagnose substance abuse disorder in the general population. That is perhaps the main reason for misdiagnosis and lack of treatment of seniors – these criteria are less relevant to them. According to a study by Moore and Endo, the results of which were published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society, the higher rate of comorbid physical and psychiatric conditions and the prescription medications used to treat them render older adults extremely vulnerable to the impact of alcohol. Provides information about the scope of substance use in older adults, the risk factors for substance use disorders in… More middle-aged and older adults are misusing alcohol, opioids, heroin, and marijuana.

Let them know they should always turn to their loved ones and a doctor if they feel like they’ve become dependent on a particular medicine or other substance. Treatment options for elderly alcohol abuse or drug addiction vary depending on the level of medical care needed. They may include educational and preventative services and support, medical detox, and outpatient or inpatient treatment.