Drug and Alcohol Use Among Older Adults

A report from the British charity organization DrugScope shows that middle aged and older people using alcohol and drugs is soaring in that country.
distressed man possibly alcoholism

The report shows that people ages 18-24 and 25-29 are looking for heroin addiction help. That number has been steadily declining since 2005. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the number of people age 40 and above seeking heroin addiction treatment has been steeply increasing.

Heroin is far from the only substance problem afflicting older adults:

  • The rate of pot smokers over age 50 is 10 times greater than it was in the 1990s
  • There are also more people over 50 using LSD, amphetamines and cocaine
  • Figures on over 65 men entering hospitals because of alcohol-linked health issues exploded by 136 percent in the years 2002-2010, while the number of women increased by 132 percent during that same time
  • There were 533,302 emergency room visits because of drug or alcohol misuse since 2010 – 120,000 of them were by people in their 40s, considered to be the most likely to need hospitalization because of substance abuse in Britain.

It isn’t a matter of an aging drug population. Rather it seems that large numbers of mid to later life adults are deciding to smoke pot. The same is true for alcohol abuse. Around 1.5 million senior adults are overdrinking in Britain, and the problem is taking its toll. The number of over 55 fatalities due to alcohol-related causes is on the rise. And the number of 75+ alcohol-linked deaths is the highest it’s been since 1991, when record keeping began.

Some of those alcohol-connected fatalities are due to a lifetime of alcohol consumption. But much of it is also people who started drinking later in life. DrugScope says that people who never drank or used drugs in their younger years seem to be turning to substances as the problems associated with aging become a reality.

Problems like loneliness, purposelessness and stress from caring for a spouse with a long-term illness may all contribute. Physical limitations and age-related illnesses could also trigger a desire to escape through substance use.

DrugScope urges greater attention on older substance users. So much of the research and intervention strategies are focused on younger populations. The DrugScope report reveals that it may be time to realize that substance abuse is not only a problem of the very young, and it’s probably not limited to our neighbors across the pond either.

Posted on September 19th, 2014
Posted in Substance Abuse

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