Substance abuse is a growing, but mostly silent, epidemic among older adults. We sought to analyze the trends in admissions for substance abuse treatment among older adults (aged 55 and older).
Treatment Episode Data Set - Admissions (TEDS-A) for period between 2000 and 2012 was used. The trends in admission for primary substances, demographic attributes, characteristics of substance abused and type of admission were analyzed.
While total number of substance abuse treatment admissions between 2000 and 2012 changed slightly, proportion attributable to older adults increased from 3.4% to 7.0%. Substantial changes in the demographic, substance use pattern, and treatment characteristics for the older adult admissions were noted. Majority of the admissions were for alcohol as the primary substance. However there was a decreasing trend in this proportion (77% to 64%). The proportion of admissions for following primary substances showed increase: cocaine/crack, marijuana/hashish, heroin, non-prescription methadone, and other opiates and synthetics. Also, admissions for older adults increased between 2000 and 2012 for African Americans (21% to 28%), females (20% to 24%), high school graduates (63% to 75%), homeless (15% to 19%), unemployed (77% to 84%), and those with psychiatric problems (17% to 32%).The proportion of admissions with prior history of substance abuse treatment increased from 39% to 46% and there was an increase in the admissions where more than one problem substance was reported. Ambulatory setting continued to be the most frequent treatment setting, and individual (including self-referral) was the most common referral source. The use of medication assisted therapy remained low over the years (7% - 9%).
The changing demographic and substance use pattern of older adults implies that a wide array of psychological, social, and physiological needs will arise. Integrated, multidisciplinary and tailored policies for prevention and treatment are necessary to address the growing epidemic of substance abuse in older adults.