Substance Abuse Skyrocketing among Older Americans


The latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health reveals that Americans who are past the age of 60 may be at increased risk of problematic substance use.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration conducts the NSDUH, which provides up-to-date information on a number of health-related topics, such as mental health and tobacco, drug, and alcohol use in the United States.

Substance Abuse among Seniors– The Statistics

Per the NSDUH, the 60-to-64-year-old age demographic saw the largest increase in past-month drug use between 2016 and 2016—38%.  Right now in America, there are over 10 million drug abusers who are past the age of 40.

Of special relevance, by examining  older age groups and how their past-month drug significantly changed from 2016 to 2017, we learn:

60-64 years old:

  • Cannabis: +48% –2017: There were over 1.2 million people in this demographic who use marijuana, an increase of 830,000 the year before.
  • Prescription Opioid Painkillers: +17%–2017: There were 169,000 abusers of prescription opioids, up from 145,000 in 2016.
  • All other opioids (Heroin, Illicit Synthetics): 17%–2017: There were 169,000 current opioid abusers, climbing from 146,000 a year before.

65 and older:

  • Marijuana: +6%–2016-017: The number of marijuana users in this demographic rose slightly, from 1,097,000 to 1,168,000.
  • Cocaine: +118%— At the same time, the number of coke abusers surged, going from 38,000 to 83,000.
  • Opioid Painkillers: +35%–The number of people who abused pain medications jumped from 176,000 to 235,000.

Because senior citizens are more likely to suffer from long-term chronic pain, they are also more frequently prescribed – and overprescribed -opioid pain drugs.  As a result, SAMHSA reports that between 1992 and 2010, the number of people 50 and older who were admitted to a drug rehab program shot up 136%.


  • The number of overdose deaths involving opioids among the 55-to-64-year-old demographic ballooned from 226 to 7486 – a troubling increase of more than 3300%!
  • Likewise, the 65-74 age group saw an even-greater increase of 4150%.
  • Among older males, overdoses involving opioids rose sharply,  by 775%
  • Senior females saw a massive increase of 1682%

Another startling discovery from the latest NSDUH is the prevalence of problem drinking within the older population.

  • 60-64: Risky binge drinking episodes went up 14% between 2016-2017, and heavy drinking increased by 15%.
  • Around 1 out of every 5 people in that demographic regularly abuses alcohol.
  • 65+: Binge and heavy drinking increased 23%.
  • 1 out of 8 senior citizens engages in risky drinking behaviors.
  • This works out to nearly 10 million alcohol abusers age 60 and over.

The Dangers of Senior substance Abuse

This level of substance abuse creates significant hazards .

Because multiple prescription drugs are typically taken at this age, drinking or drug abuse dramatically increases the likelihood  of a dangerous  drug interaction.

Also, because alcohol, opioids, and tranquilizers are all Central Nervous System depressants, accidental overdoses and even death become a very real possibility.

Finally, drug or alcohol intoxication can cause a person to forget if they took their medication or not.  This  can be the difference between safe medicating and taking too much.

What Does All of This Mean?

The #1 takeaway from the  is that ANYONE can struggle with substance abuse, dependence, and addiction. The disease doesn’t respect boundaries of age, education, income, or accomplishment.

If you are concerned about how an older loved one’s drug abuse or drinking might be endangering their health, contact Chapman House TODAY. As one of the top drug rehab programs in Orange County, Chapman House provides the structure, treatment, and support needed for successful return to sobriety.


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