Illicit and nonmedical drug use among older adults: a review.


Journal Article (Review)

OBJECTIVE: Substance abuse among older adults is a looming public health concern. The number of Americans aged 50+ years with a substance use disorder is projected to double from 2.8 million in 2002-2006 to 5.7 million in 2020. The authors provide a review of epidemiological findings for this understudied area of research by focusing on illicit drug use disorders and nonmedical use of prescription drugs among adults aged 50+ years. METHOD: MEDLINE and PsychInfo were searched using keywords drug use, drug abuse, drug misuse, substance use disorder, and prescription drug abuse. Using the related-articles link, additional articles were screened for inclusion. This review included articles published between 1990 and 2010. RESULT: RESULTS: Rates of treatment admissions involving primary use of illicit and misuse of prescription drugs have increased, while rates involving primary use of alcohol only have decreased. Alcohol, opioids/heroin, and cocaine were more likely than other substances to be associated with treatment use. Limited research data suggested the effectiveness of treatments, especially for women. Furthermore, older adults appeared to be less likely than younger adults to perceive substance use as problematic or to use treatment services. DISCUSSION: There is robust evidence showing that an increased number of older adults will need substance abuse care in the coming decades. Increasing demands on the substance abuse treatment system will require expansion of treatment facilities and development of effective service programs to address emerging needs of the aging drug-using population.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Wu, L-T; Blazer, DG

Published Date

  • April 2011

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 23 / 3

Start / End Page

  • 481 - 504

PubMed ID

  • 21084724

Pubmed Central ID

  • 21084724

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1552-6887

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1177/0898264310386224


  • eng

Conference Location

  • United States