Drug Abuse Skyrocketing Amongst Older Individuals

Edited by Paul Alexander

Last updated October 10, 2014

For many older individuals, their primary focus is often consumed by topics such as retirement, financials, grandchildren, and so on. However, for millions of people within this age range, all of those topics are put on the backburner, as they are preoccupied with substance abuse instead.

It is estimated that 2.8 million middle-aged and older individuals are currently struggling with substance abuse, including alcoholism and prescription drug addiction. It is reported that this number is predicted to almost double by 2020, reaching 5.7 million people.

On Monday, The New York Times released a report that showed that illegal substance abuse amongst individuals between the ages of 50 and 64 went from 2.7% in 2002 to 6% last year.

Why The Increase?

Many people are wondering just why this age group is struggling with substance abuse at higher rates than ever before. With the amount of education that is available about chemical dependency, how can adults still be facing these issues? For many of them, it is quite easy and often understandable.

For example, a majority of people in their early 50’s and in their elderly years are facing emotional issues like depression and anxiety. These issues often stem from retirement, loss of loved ones, empty nest syndrome, and other life changes. While many people do receive treatment for these issues, many do not and instead, turn to the use of drugs and/or alcohol as a way of coping.

In addition, people who are in the middle of their elderly years are often prescribed a number of different medications for a variety of health (both physical and psychological) issues. Many of these medications can be highly addictive, and elderly individuals can easily begin to abuse them both intentionally and unintentionally.

There is also a generational gap between older individuals and younger individuals that makes the idea of obtaining treatment more complicated. Up until recently, treatment for substance abuse problems has been viewed as a highly negative thing to do. While more people are seeking treatment than ever before, there is still a stigma surrounding treatment and admitting to a substance abuse problem – a stigma often shared amongst older individuals who were raised differently than the current, younger generation. This often makes it difficult for older individuals to feel comfortable reaching out for help and accepting treatment, thus the continuation of an increase in abuse.

If you or someone you love is abusing drugs and/or alcohol, the best thing to do is to obtain help, regardless of personal opinions about it. Addiction is a disease that often requires professional care in order to control.


Article Reviewed by Paul Alexander

Paul AlexanderPaul Alexander is the founder and CEO of Northbound Treatment. He received his Certified Addiction Treatment Specialist training at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, CA, and was awarded Outstanding Alumni Service Award in 2002. Paul holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminology, Law and Society, Summa Cum Laude, from University of California, Irvine, and a Juris Doctorate degree from Loyola Law School of Los Angeles. He believes wholeheartedly in transformational leadership, organizational health and effective, fully integrated substance use disorder treatment.