Looking at people 50 and over, and especially the baby boom generation, given its size, a study in the journal Addiction estimated that number of adults aged 50 or older with substance use disorders is currently more than 2.8 million and that number is expected to double to 5.7 million by 2020. This increase is projected for all gender, race/ethnicity, and age subgroups within the larger group.
While the focus of the addiction and substance use disorder discussion usually is on young adults, this marked increase in substance use disorders in the older population is forcing the discussion into the mainstream, in articles such as the New York Times’ recent piece “More Older Adults Are Struggling With Substance Abuse” (Ellin, 2014). The substance abuse in this population is not limited to alcohol, but includes prescription drugs and other illicit drugs. The isolation and depression that can accompany retirement, especially if families live scattered at great distances, can be factors in older adults developing use disorders. Retirees do not always plan activities to fill the void left when one is no longer working, or after one’s spouse or close friends have died. Substances such as alcohol and drugs—prescription or otherwise—can be used to fill the space and alleviate the loneliness that can come with age.
Because of co-occurring disorders, substance use disorders can also be harder to identify in older population. Forgetfulness and unsteadiness can be functions of age and legitimate prescription drug use as well as substance abuse. The mix of prescription drugs with alcohol or other substances can also put older adults at greater risk for dangerous complications.
It can be difficult to get these adults into treatment programs. They may be more resistant to leaving familiar surroundings for inpatient treatment programs, and many programs are geared toward younger populations, which can leave older adults feeling out of place and/or like their particular problems won’t be addressed.
Like other issues affected by the aging baby boomer population, healthcare providers and policymakers need to be mindful of the need for resource allocation and the need to develop prevention and treatment approaches that address the specific needs of this special population.
Resources Ellin, A. (2014, October 3). More older adults are struggling with substance abuse. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/04/business/more-older-adults-are-struggling-with-substance-abuse.html Han, B., Gfroerer, J. C, Colliver, J. D., & Penne, M. A. (2008, December 12). Substance use disorder among older adults in the United States in 2020. Addiction, 104(1), 88-96. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1360-0443.2008.02411.x/abstract SAMHSA. (2014, September 4). Substance use and mental health estimates from the 2013 national survey on drug use and health-overview of findings. Retrieved from http://store.samhsa.gov/product/Substance-Use-and-Mental-Health-Estimates-from-the-2013-National-Survey-on-Drug-Use-and-Health-Overview-of-Findings/All-New-Products/NSDUH14-0904 – See more at: http://www.georgiadetoxandrecoverycenters.com/about-georgia-detox-and-recovery-centers/blog/older-adults-and-substance-use-disorders-written-by-rivermend-health-scientific-advisory-board/#sthash.fvNxXSfA.dpuf