Study Shows Rise in Substance Abuse among Older Adults
Among this age group, adults ages 50–54 showed the highest amount of substance abuse, of which declined significantly with progressing age. Marijuana was more commonly abused than any other substance, and was the most highly abused substance for adults ages 50–54 and 55–59 (6.1 percent and 4.1 percent respectively). Substance abuse among adults ages 60–64 was somewhat divided between marijuana use and nonmedical use of prescription drugs, but substance abuse among adults ages 65 and older was more commonly to be prescription drug abuse (0.8 percent) than marijuana (0.4 percent). SAMHSA believes this disparity between older adult age groups is caused by apparent trends in substance abuse by the baby boomer generation. Substance abusing adults ages 65 and older, who represent the pre-baby boomer generation, were less likely to abuse all types of illicit substances than the younger age groups (50–54 years and 55–59 years). The baby boomer generation—which currently represents the first baby boomers in the 60–64 age group and exclusively baby boomers in the 55–59 and 50–54 age groups—were increasingly more likely to abuse marijuana, prescription drugs, and other illicit substances. These statistics indicate that substance abuse in older adults is likely to grow higher over time as the baby boomers progress in age.
Furthermore, the study displayed significant differences in substance abuse by gender among this age group. Among adults ages 50 and older, men were more likely to abuse any illicit substance than women. The greatest amount of marijuana abuse among older adults was seen in males ages 50–54 (8.5 percent), and men remained consistently more likely to abuse marijuana than women in all older age groups. Women ages 50–54 and 55–59 in this group showed similar results in marijuana abuse and nonmedical use of prescription drugs. For females ages 50–54 years, 3.9 percent abused marijuana and 3.1 percent abused prescription drugs. For females ages 55–59 years, 2.8 percent abused marijuana and 2.6 percent abused prescription drugs. However, in ages 60 and older, women were more likely to abuse prescriptions drugs. For females ages 60–64 years, 1.3 percent abused marijuana while 2.5 percent abused prescription drugs; for females ages 65 and older, 0.1 percent abused marijuana while 0.6 percent abused prescription drugs. Only in the category of adults ages 60–64 were women more likely than men to abuse prescription medication (2.5 percent of women vs. 1.5 percent of men).
Because older adults face multifaceted health challenges, substance abuse becomes an even greater threat to this generation’s health and well being. The mixing of medications or other substances, as well as withdrawal symptoms from abused substances, can create hazardous or even fatal results for this age group. If these adults are suffering from a specific medical disorder or physical illness, substance abuse increases their risk of injury or overdose. Substance abuse can produce further physical and emotional complications in addition to preexisting conditions, and recovery for these aging adults is most difficult to attain than any other age group. SAMHSA also cites this study as evidence for a need to increase prevention strategies and inclusion of drug screenings and treatment referrals in regular health care procedures for people of all ages.