Illicit Drug Use Among Older Adults

by Dr. George Crabb on March 7, 2014 · 0 comments

RHi_Blog_OldPeepsAddiction

Illicit drug use generally declines as individuals move through young adulthood into middle adulthood and maturity, but research has shown that the baby-boom generation (persons born between 1946 and 1964) has relatively higher drug use rates than previous generations.  It has been predicted that, as the baby boom generation ages, past year marijuana use will almost triple between 1999/2001 and 2020 among persons aged 50 or older.  Non-medical use of prescription-type drugs also has been identified as a concern for this population.

Although use of illicit drugs is problematic for individuals of all ages, it may be of particular concern for older adults because they experience physiological, psychological, and social changes that place them at greater risk of harm from illicit drug use.  The increasing prevalence and effects of illicit drug use among older adults suggest the need both to better understand illicit drug use among this population and to plan to minister to them in the RU program.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) asks persons aged 12 or older to report their use of illicit drugs in the past year.  NSDUH defines illicit drugs to include marijuana/hashish, cocaine (including crack), inhalants, hallucinogens, heroin, or prescription-type drugs used non-medically.  This issue of The NSDUH Report presents estimates of past year use of illicit drugs among persons aged 50 or older.  Findings in the report are annual averages based on combined 2007 to 2009 NSDUH data.

 Types of Illicit Drugs Used among Older Adults

 An estimated 4.8 million adults aged 50 or older, or 5.2 percent of adults in that age range, had used an illicit drug in the past year.  The most common illicit drug among older adults was marijuana (3.2 percent or 3.0 million users), followed by non-medical use of prescription-type drugs (2.3 percent or 2.1 million users).  About 0.8 percent (761,000 users) of older adults reported use of an illicit drug other than marijuana or non-medical use of prescription-type drugs, including 0.6 percent for cocaine, 0.1 percent for heroin, 0.1 percent for hallucinogens, and 0.1 percent for inhalants.

 Differences by Age Group

 Among older adults, the prevalence rates of any illicit drug use, marijuana use, and non-medical use of prescription-type drugs were higher for adults aged 50 to 59 than for those aged 60 or older.  Comparing the types of substances used in the past year, marijuana use was more common than non-medical use of prescription-type drugs among adults aged 50 to 59.  Among adults aged 60 or older, the rate of non-medical use of prescription-type drugs was similar to the rate of marijuana use (1.2 and 1.1 percent, respectively).

 Differences by Gender

 Among adults aged 50 or older, the prevalence rates of any illicit drug use and marijuana use in the past year were higher among males than females.  These patterns were generally consistent across age groups.  For example, 8.0 percent of males aged 50 to 59 used marijuana compared with 3.9 percent of same-aged females.  Males and females, however, had similar rates of nonmedical use of prescription-type drugs overall and within both age groups.

Comparing the types of substances used in the past year, marijuana use was more common than non-medical use of prescription-type drugs among all males aged 50 or older (4.7 vs. 2.5 percent) and among males aged 50 to 59 (8.0 vs. 3.9 percent).  Among all females aged 50 or older, the rates of marijuana use and non-medical use of prescription-type drugs were similar (1.9 and 2.1 percent, respectively), but the rate of marijuana use was lower than the rate non-medical use of prescription-type drugs among females aged 60 or older (0.5 vs. 1.1 percent).

 Types of Drugs Used among Drug Users

Among adults aged 50 or older who used illicit drugs in the past year, 45.2 percent used only marijuana, 31.5 percent used only prescription-type drugs non-medically, and 5.6 percent used only other illicit drugs (including cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, or inhalants) with the remainder using other combinations of illicit drugs.  Although some prescription-type drug users initiated their non-medical use of these drugs late in life, most used for the first time more than 10 years ago.  Nearly all of the marijuana users initiated marijuana use more than 10 years ago.

Differences were seen between males and females.  For example, the percentage using marijuana only was higher among males than females (49.2 vs 38.8 percent), while the percentage reporting non-medical use of prescription-type drugs only was higher among females than males (44.4 vs 23.4 percent).

 Discussion

Despite the perception that illicit drug use is a spiritual issue only for adolescents and young adults, it is also a serious and growing health concern for older adults.  Research shows that illicit drug use is more common among the baby-boom generation than previous cohorts, leading researchers to estimate that the number of older adults with a substance use disorder will double by 2020.  This report shows that nearly 4.8 million adults aged 50 or older used an illicit drug in the past year and that patterns of use vary by gender and age group.  Together, these data highlight the importance of RU programs reaching out to older adults.

Like younger age groups, effective ministry for older adults begins with accurate reaching out to the older population.  However, addressing the needs of older adults in our RU programs presents different challenges than younger age groups.  For example, use of marijuana may be a decades-long experience for some older adults.

Finally, treatment of older adults must be the same spiritual counseling and walk with God but we must take into account for the life stage of the individual and the aging process. Also, ministering approaches that include adult children and friends of substance-abusing older adults may be critical to help the elderly recover.

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post:

The Fundamental Top 500The Baptist Top 1000 Bible Top 1000