Older Adult Substance Use Disorders

older-adultsThe disease of addiction is powerful! In a relatively short period of time it can destroy lives, tear families apart, and cause the afflicted to lose all touch with reality. Left untreated and without a course of vigilant daily maintenance, the disease has shown time and time again that it also has the power to kill. Despite the diseases vast power, it lacks the ability to discriminate; addiction does not care about age, race, or socio-economic standing, anymore than an illness like cancer or diabetes.

When people think about addiction, the pictures that form in one’s mind vary greatly; often times, how a person envisions those suffering from a substance use disorder will depend on their background. Some will think of a young adult who has had little guidance in life, others will think of a middle aged “wino” they always see in front of their local convenience store that has had a run of bad luck. The reality is the picture of an addict can be painted in an infinite number of ways; the straight “A” teenager, the successful corporate executive, the retired grandparent, et al.

In fact, research indicates that a growing number of older adults are afflicted by a substance use disorder, The New York Times report. While the biggest substance abuse problem among older adults is tied to alcohol, illicit drug use among adults ages 50 to 64 is on the rise.

It’s estimated that there’s 2.8 million older adults in the United States meeting criteria for alcohol abuse, a number that is expected to reach 5.7 million by 2020, according to a study in the journal Addiction.

“There’s this lore, this belief, that as people get older they become less treatable,” said Paul Sacco, Assistant Professor of Social Work at the University of Maryland in Baltimore, researcher of aging and addiction. “But there’s a large body of literature saying that the outcomes are as good with older adults. They’re not hopeless. This may be just the time to get them treatment.”

Between 1992 and 2008, the number of people over 50 who sought treatment for a substance use disorder more than doubled, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). In 1992, there were 102,700 people over 50 that received treatment, compared to 231,200 people in 2008.

In 2012, up to one-fifth of Americans over age 65 have substance abuse or mental health conditions, according to a report issued by the Institute of Medicine.