Substance Use and Older Adults

Substance misuse in Vermonters age 65 and older is increasing. With this and the fact that the older adult population is continuing to grow, there is an increased need for awareness of safe substance use, identifying risky use and substance use disorders, and treatment and recovery services for this group. Many are not aware that as we age, changes in the body such as lower water content, less-efficient metabolism and excretion, and increased brain sensitivity, may cause alcohol and drugs to have a stronger effect among some individuals.

Older adults & Alcohol


Click here to download "Aging & Alcohol: What You Should Know" to learn more.

In Vermont, 6% of older adults engage in chronic drinking (more than 60 alcoholic drinks per month for men and more than 30 for women), 9% engage in high risk drinking (four or more drinks on an occasion for men and three or more for women) and 23% engage in at-risk drinking (three or more drinks on an occasion for men and two or more drinks for women), all of which are higher than U.S. rates. (See a data brief on these statistics.)

For older adults who have dementia or are taking medications that interact with alcohol there is no safe level of alcohol use.

These high rates of risky drinking have led to the doubling of alcohol use disorders in this population from 2001-2013 (from 1.5% in 2001/2002 to 3.1% in 2012-2013).

Older adults & Opioids

Most older adults are on prescription medications, and many take multiple prescriptions creating the possibility of complex drug interactions. Additionally, alcohol could alter the effect of some medications either preventing the desired effect or dangerously magnifying it. Symptoms of misuse can be mistaken for symptoms of chronic medical conditions or aging.

Older adults & Marijuana

Marijuana use has increased among all age groups in Vermont, including older adults, with increases in lifetime, past year, and past month use.

Treatment & Recovery Services for Older Adults

Age-appropriate addiction treatment and recovery services for older adults require some special age considerations and are often found effective when embedded in medical settings and integrated with other health and social services.

VT Treatment & Recovery Directory

Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment
Older Adult Substance Use Screening
ADAP Guide for Screening Older Adults
Screening & Brief Intervention for Substance Misuse Among Older Adults: The Florida BRITE Project
Vermont Data Briefs
SAMHSA Older Adults and Alcohol Misuse and Abuse Issue Brief
SAMHSA Older Adults and Medication Misuse and Abuse Issue Brief
Vermont Department of Disabilities, Aging, & Independent Living (DAIL)
ADAP Presentations: "Substance Use Screening for Adults" & "How Much is Too Much: At-Risk Drinking and Medication Misuse in Older Adults"