Substance Use Disorder in the Senior Population

Senior substance use disorder, especially prescription drugs and alcohol, is one of Arizona’s fastest-growing health issues.

The U.S. Department of Health’s Addiction Prevention and Recovery Administration reported that over eight million seniors are suffering from substance use disorder.

Elder Equals Higher Risk

Seniors are at greater risk than those younger. Citizens aged 65 and over have a reduced ability to metabolize any substance, as the liver and the kidneys decrease their function as time passes by. In addition, the brain has heightened sensitivity, so drugs and alcohol have a longer and stronger effect.

To worsen things, alcohol-related injuries can be a life-threatening event in contrast to the young population. And it is important to highlight that drug and alcohol misuse can mimic other mental health disorders, such as depression, diabetes, or dementia. Doctors who see older patients can easily chalk up declining mental and physical health to “old age.”

Not All Seniors Who Suffer From Substance Use Disorder Are The Same

The Advances in Social Work categorizes them as it follows:

  • Early-onset: are people who misuse substances before age 65. They are more likely to have mental and physical health problems than their late-onset counterparts. 66% of those who drink alcohol are early-onset drug users. This is due to tolerant attitudes toward drug and alcohol abuse, family conflict, and financial difficulties, among other factors. Seniors without a college degree are more likely to be affected.
  • Late-Onset: Retirement, loss of income, death, relocation, difficulty sleeping, and health decline can all trigger late-onset addiction. This type of substance use disorder is often a side effect of depression, memory loss, major surgeries, and other issues. People who suffer from substance use disorder later in life tend to have fewer health problems than those who are early-onset.

Why The Elderly May Suffer From Substance Use Disorder?

There are many reasons someone could suffer from substance use disorder later in life. These can be life-altering events or health problems that cause emotional distress. Here are some possible triggers:

  • Retirement
  • Death of a spouse or family member, pet, close friend, or animal
  • Loss of income or financial strain
  • Placement in a nursing home or relocation
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Family conflict
  • Depression, memory loss, and major surgery are all possible. All of these can lead to mental and physical decline

Seniors and Alcohol Misuse

Despite the rising of illegal drug usage, alcohol remains the most commonly misused substance for adults over 65. Alcohol and prescription drug abuse affect up to 17% of adults over the age of 60 per the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

In 2015 the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that risky alcohol consumption (more than 7 drinks per night or more than 3 in a single sitting) rose to approximately 10.9% among females and 16.0% among males.

Remember: anyone of any age can overcome substance use disorder. 

Sources – The Silent Epidemic of Senior Addiction – Senior Citizens And Substance Abuse – Late Onset of Prescription Drug Abuse or Dependence Among Older Adults: Implications for Treatment – Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed. (DSM-IV) – Medication for the Treatment of Substance Abuse Disorder: A Brief Guide

Alcohol Abuse Statistics [2021]: National + State Data – NCDAS (

Addiction In The Elderly Population – Addiction Center



Exit mobile version