5 Startling Statistics About Senior Adults and Drug Use

statistics-senior-drug-use

When caring for a senior adult, there are many aspects of their health to worry about — from sudden falls to increased health ailments. However, drug use is usually something parents worry about with their children more so than the senior adults in their lives. Surprisingly, senior adults are more at risk for substance misuse than people may realize.

Here are five statistics about senior adults misusing substances that might surprise you. 

1. Nearly 1 million adults aged 65 and older have a substance use disorder (SUD)

While illicit drug use is typically associated with teens and young adults, nearly 1 million senior adults have a substance use disorder (SUD). From 2000 to 2012, the number of older adults admitted into treatment facilities increased from 3.4% to 7.0% during that 12-year span.

2. At least 1 in 25 elderly adults are at risk for a major drug-drug interaction

With age often comes the onset of chronic health conditions. Senior adults are often prescribed more medications than any other age group, which can lead to seniors being exposed to potentially addictive medications. In one particular study of 3,000 adults between the ages of 57-85, more than 80% of participants used at least one prescription medication daily with nearly half of participants using more than five medications or supplements. This puts at least 1 in 25 people in this age bracket at risk for a major drug-drug interaction.

3. Between 4-9% of older adults use prescription opioid medications for pain relief

Dealing with persistent pain becomes more complicated in senior adults experiencing other health conditions. Between 4-9% of older adults use prescription opioid medications for pain relief — from 1995-2010, the number of opioids prescribed to older adults during this 15-year span increased by a factor of nine — and the proportion of people in that age group seeking treatment for opioids use disorder increased by nearly 54%.

4. The number of adults ages 65 and up who smoke marijuana/take edibles spiked 75% in three years

In a study published in February 2020, JAMA reported that the number of Americans over the age of 65 who smoke marijuana or take edibles spiked 75% in three years. While medical marijuana becoming legal in several states may at least partially account for the increase in usage, older adults living with chronic disease may also account for the increase in usage. The marijuana delivery platform Eaze reported Boomers are their biggest spender, spending around $95 per month, as opposed to Gen Zers ages 21-24, who spend 53% less on marijuana per month.

Because marijuana has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), senior adults should weigh the potential benefits of marijuana use against the risks, especially for those who take prescription medications for other health conditions.

5. About 65% of adults 65 and older report high-risk drinking

Alcohol is the most commonly used drug among senior adults — about 65% of adults 65 and older report high-risk drinking. More than one tenth of adults age 65 and older binge drink, which is the equivalent of drinking five or more drinks at one time for men and four or more drinks at one time for women. One study reported a 107% increase in alcohol use disorder in adults aged 65 years and older from 2001-2013. Alcohol use disorder can increase the risk of diabetes, congestive heart failure, liver and bone issues, memory issues, high blood pressure, and mood disorders.


At Wellspring Center of Prevention, our Wellness Initiative for Senior Education (WISE) program provides valuable educational services to older adults on topics including nutrition and exercise, medication use, stress management, depression, and substance abuse. Contact us today for more information about this, and other, senior prevention programs.

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