Substance Use and Older Adults

Senior men walking in fall leaves

Substance misuse in Vermonters age 65 and older is increasing and the older adult population is continuing to grow. There is an increased need for awareness of unhealthy substance use, identify risks, and treatment and recovery services.

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 other drugs to have a stronger effect.

Alcohol

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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

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).

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

Alcohol could alter the effect of some medications either preventing the desired effect or dangerously magnifying it.

aging and medications brochure cover + image of older adult discussing health with older adult health care provider
Opioids

A lot of older adults are on prescription medications and many take multiple prescriptions. This can create the possibility of complex drug interactions. Symptoms of misuse can be mistaken for symptoms of chronic medical conditions or aging.

Marijuana

Marijuana use has increased among all age groups in Vermont, including older adults.

Treatment & Recovery Services

Older adult alcohol and other drug treatment and recovery services require age considerations and are found to be effective when embedded in medical settings and integrated with other health and social services.

Get help

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