Substance Use Disorders in Older Adults: A Growing Threat

  • By PureAire
  • 17th April, 2023

Rapidly growing numbers of older adults will need substance misuse prevention and counseling, and sometimes SUD treatment services, particularly to address nonmedical use of prescription medication. Drug and alcohol abuse have impacted seniors in the United States as it has among younger Americans. Over 5,000 people ages 65 and over in the U.S. died of a drug overdose in 2020, and more than twice that many (11,616) died of alcohol-induced causes. The data are featured in two new reports released today by CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). We may be paid a fee for marketing or advertising by organizations that can assist with treating people with substance use disorders.

For instance, a person who misuses alcohol may experience issues with balance and coordination, but these issues may also increase as we age. In addition to the limited research available on older adults with addiction, this population faces several other challenges when dealing with substance use disorders (SUDs). NIDA further explains that misusing opioids and benzodiazepine drugs increases suicidal thoughts among people aged 50 and older.

Treatment Options for Elderly Adults

Seniors engage in fewer activities regardless of whether substance use is present or not, making it difficult to establish if this criterion is met. One Swedish study found that mice taking the drug for two weeks had impaired cell growth in the hippocampus, a brain region critical for memory and learning. A 2022 study in Portugal found altered levels of dopamine and serotonin in rats, as well as lowered defenses against stress, said Gonçalo Justino, a biochemistry researcher at the University of Lisbon. A Wisconsin mother said her son, 11, dreamed about his family being murdered. An Arizona mother said her 7-year-old developed severe tics, a problem one French study has tied to the drug.

what are reasons for substance abuse in older adults

As noted above, the rapid rate of life changes can often lead to depression and anxiety, and those living with these or other mental health challenges are more prone to developing substance use disorders. However, nearly any mental or cognitive health challenge can be comorbid with or lead to substance abuse. Symptoms of cognitive decline and symptoms of substance misuse may be similar. This makes it harder for family members, caregivers, and healthcare and behavioral health service providers to recognize when older adults misuse substances. FDA’s action was not meant to suggest that providers withhold buprenorphine or methadone, which treat opioid use disorder (OUD), from patients also prescribed benzodiazepines, although FDA recommends careful medication management of these patients.77
Exhibit 1.4 lists common opioids.

Substance Use Disorders in Older Adults: Overview and Future Directions

The coca plant, a native of South America, is the source of this widely used illicit narcotic. Unfortunately, the medication is frequently combined with other substances like carbohydrates, flour, or dangerous drugs like opioids and amphetamines. Cocaine is often snorted, which immediately releases dopamine into the brain and produces a powerful but brief high.

The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation has tips on how to talk to your loved one about addiction. There’s likely a lot more below the surface, between lack of reporting and recent research on substance use disorder in older adults, than these statistics show us. Some specific considerations may help older adults and their loved ones find the right care. For many people in addiction recovery, faith and spirituality play a crucial role in their path to sobriety.

Overlap Between Substance Use Disorders And Signs Of Aging

However, research on mental health among older people indicates that when these adults do experience mood disorders, they experience more negative health outcomes as a result. The TIP consensus panel recommends yearly screening for all adults ages 60 and older and when major life changes occur (e.g., retirement, loss of partner/spouse, changes in health). For more accurate histories, ask questions about substance use in the recent past while asking about other health behaviors (e.g., exercise, smoking, diet).

  • Identification and treatment of SUDs can be challenging, but is possible with the right knowledge and tools.
  • Additionally, many older adults are dealing with chronic physical or mental health issues that substance use disorders can exacerbate.
  • In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM‐5), people with substance use issues receive a diagnosis of mild, moderate, or severe substance use disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 2013; Varcoe et al., 2018).
  • Research by Blazer and Wu carried out for the National Institutes of Health found that 2.9 million adults over 50 years of age used opioids non-medically in 2012.

As a result, they are often prescribed for chronic and acute pain conditions, which older adults experience more often than younger adults. These changes create stress, and people may abuse drugs and alcohol to cope with that stress. substance abuse in older adults Older adults may struggle to form new memories, and they may lose some long-term memories as well. However, many older people do experience addiction, which can create unique concerns and consequences for aging brains and bodies.