Illicit Drug Use Among Seniors Has More Than Doubled Since 2002

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Illicit Drug Use Among Seniors Has More Than Doubled Since 2002

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), use of illicit drugs among persons aged 50 and older is increasing. Marijuana aside, some of these persons, perhaps on the cusp of their twilight years, are using drugs that are much more hazardous. Some of these include illicit (non-medical use) of prescription painkillers and anti-anxiety medications, heroin, cocaine, and meth.

More specifically, NSDUH found that illicit drug use among adults age 50-64 more than doubled – increasing from just under 3% in 2002 to 6% in 2013. And those are just the folks that will admit to it.

The breakdown of illicit drug users over age 50:

  • Persons aged 50-54 increased from 3.4% to nearly 8%
  • Persons aged 55-59 increased from just under 2% to nearly 6%
  • Persons aged 60-64 increased from 1.1% to nearly 4%

These are the Baby Boomers, born between 1946-1964, and they are beginning to take over the senior set. By some estimates, in 2013, there will be about 72 million persons aged 65 or older. Compared to the generation before, The Boomers tend to be more liberal about drug use, particularly marijuana, the most popular illicit drug.

illicit drug use | Just Believe RecoveryAlso, many 60-somethings and beyond continue to drink alcohol above the recommended limitsAlso, many 60-somethings and beyond continue to drink alcohol above the recommended limits (2 units per day for men, 1 unit per day for women, and no more than seven units per week.)

As we age, our bodies become less efficient at processing alcohol, and older people tend to have more medical conditions requiring prescription drugs. These drugs, when combined with alcohol, can result in unintentional and dangerous complications.

As people of all ages do, older persons often engage in illicit drug use and drink alcohol in response to stress, depression, and trauma. Common sources of stress for older people include financial insecurity, age-related health problems, the loss of a spouse, and family obligations that put a strain on their mental wellness as well as their pocketbook.

Women especially may be faced with financial difficulties at this age, as they likely suffered through decades of working under an income gap. Even in 2014, women of all races earned only 78% of white men. For Hispanic women specifically, that number drops to 54%, and 64% for African-American women. These lower wages result in lower Social Security, pensions, and other retirement funds.

Family obligations often include taking care of very elderly parents, as life expectancy increases and the number of people in their 80’s and 90’s continues to grow. Also, many seniors are still taking care of children and grandchildren. And this is the age in which people begin to lose spouses to serious illnesses and death.

In the end, Baby Boomers tend to face many stressors and may turn to drugs and alcohol for relief. Unfortunately, this habit can turn into dependence and addiction among those who due to their age, are the most vulnerable to the negative effects of substance use.


Just Believe Recovery is a fully licensed, Joint Commission accredited, comprehensive drug and alcohol treatment center located in Carbondale, Pennsylvania

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