Current Drug Trends in Society Impacting Older Adults

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By: SUPE Editorial Team

Generally, illicit drug use and alcohol use decline as someone ages. However, a percentage of older adults or seniors struggle with substance use disorders. It has become an emerging public health issue among older adults, specifically among the baby boomer generation.

As a result, a large cohort of older adults may experience the negative consequences of substance use. Older adults are also more likely to have chronic health conditions and take prescription medication, complicating the adverse effects of substance use.

Key Impacts:

  • Studies have found the spread of marijuana use and the opioid epidemic over the past ten years have affected middle-aged and older Americans.
  • Prescription opioid and benzodiazepine misuse increased the risk of suicidal thoughts among older adults.
  • Research has shown steep rises in marijuana use among older adults.
  • Prescription opioid misuse and heroin use are common among older adults.
  • Polydrug use among older Americans increased suicidal ideation.

How Do Drugs and Alcohol Impact Older Adults?

Aging leads to physical and social changes, leading to increased vulnerability to substance use among some older adults. In addition, older adults metabolize substances more slowly, and their brains can be more sensitive to drugs and alcohol. Older adults are also more likely to experience mood disorders, lung and heart problems, and memory issues. Drugs and alcohol worsen many of these conditions. Drugs and alcohol also impair judgment, which increases the risk of falls and motor vehicle crashes.

Prescription Medications

Seniors have a higher rate of exposure to potentially addictive medications.

80% of seniors use one medication daily.

Some studies have shown that 80% of seniors use one medication daily. Nearly half are using more than five medications or supplements.

4% of aging adults are at risk of significant drug interactions.

4% of aging adults are at risk of significant drug interactions. There is an increased risk of misusing benzodiazepines and pain medication.

25% of marijuana users age 65 and older have reported a doctor recommended marijuana in the past year.

25% of marijuana users age 65 and older have reported a doctor recommended marijuana in the past year.

Alcohol Use Among Seniors

Alcohol is the most used drug among older adults:

  • Approximately 65% of people aged 65 and older reported high-risk drinking.
  • Roughly one-tenth of older adults binge drink alcohol.
  • Research has also shown that increased alcohol consumption in recent years is greater among those aged 50 and older.

The Heightened Potency of Drugs

Since the early 1990s, the potency of drugs has changed, with many illicit street drugs and THC in marijuana increasing in potency.

Alcohol is the most used drug among older adults:

Icon used to represent marijuana

Marijuana

THC potency has increased to upwards of 15% or more in cannabis products. In addition, there is a risk of marijuana being laced with methamphetamine, fentanyl, and other drugs.

Icon used to represent alcohol

Alcohol

The ABV (alcohol by volume) in beer and spirits has increased; seeing 80-proof distilled spirits is common. The ABV in some craft beers can be as high as 9%.

Icon used to represent heroin and cocaine

Heroin and Cocaine

The purity of these drugs has increased over time, and overdose deaths involving cocaine and fentanyl have increased significantly. According to the DEA, most heroin and cocaine-involved overdose deaths contain fentanyl.

Despite increases in potency, these substances are widely abused. In addition, there is a push to make more illicit drugs legal or decriminalize them. Roughly 88% of adults in the U.S. say either marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use by adults.

How Can Seniors Prevent Drug and Alcohol Use

Preventing drug and alcohol use involves being aware of the risks, watching for warning signs of addiction, and asking for help when needed.

  • Be mindful of alcohol consumption and monitor alcohol intake or avoid triggers that make you want to drink.
  • Know the signs of addiction, such as withdrawal symptoms, urges to use alcohol or drugs, taking more of a prescription than needed, or abusing prescription drugs.
  • Get support from friends and family. It can be difficult to ask for help as we age, but it is critical to request support when it is most needed.
  • Be aware of how the medications you are taking react with alcohol and other drugs. Most prescriptions will have a warning on the bottle letting you know if your medication is safe to take with alcohol.

Test Your Knowledge

Drug Trends in Society Impacting Older Adults

How can seniors prevent drug and alcohol use?

Alcohol is the most used drug among seniors.

Seniors are less likely to be exposed to prescription medication.

Seniors metabolize drugs and alcohol at the same rate as young adults.

Prescription opioid or benzodiazepine misuse increases the risk of suicidal thoughts among older adults.

Illicit drug use or alcohol use declines or does not happen at all when someone ages.

 

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