More Seniors Enter Drug Rehab

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The face of substance abuse may be growing older.

A new report shows the number of adults over age 55 entering treatment centers for drug and alcohol abuse rose by nearly a third from 1995 to 2002.

While most people entering rehab clinics are still younger adults, researchers say alcohol and drug abuse presents a growing threat to America's burgeoning elderly population.

The number of adults over 55 is expected to mushroom from about 62 million in 2002 to 75 million by 2010. If current trends continue, researchers say the number of adults over 50 with substance abuse problems will double from 2.5 million in 1999 to 5 million in 2020.

"We are only beginning to realize the pervasiveness of substance abuse among older adults," says Charles Curie of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which released the report, in a news release.

Older Americans in Rehab

The rate of admissions to substance abuse treatment centers among older adults in 2002 was 107 per 100,000, which is still much lower than the rate of 801 admissions per 100,000 for the U.S. population under 55.

But researchers say that the number of admissions for substance abuse treatment among adults over 55 increased by 32%, from 50,200 to 66,500. This increase far outpaced the 12% increase in all people seeking treatment for drug or alcohol abuse during the same time period.

Adults aged 55 to 59 were the largest group of older adults seeking substance abuse treatment, accounting for 59% of older adults in treatment in 2002.

Drug Abuse on the Rise

Alcohol is still the main substance of abuse among older adults, but the report suggests drug abuse is on the rise.

Admissions for drug abuse among older adults increased by 106% for men and 119% for women between 1995 and 2002.

The percent of older adults in treatment who abused opiates, which include prescription pain medications and heroin, increased from 6.8% to 12% from 1995 to 2002, making it the second most frequently reported reason for seeking treatment after alcohol.

Meanwhile, the proportion of admissions related to alcohol abuse declined from 87% in 1995 to 78% in 2002.

The report also shows treatment admission rates for substance abuse among older adults were highest in Northern and Northeastern states.

By Jennifer Warner
Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD
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