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Substance misuse on the rise as boomers age

May 31, 2018
by Tom Valentino, Senior Editor
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Historically, baby boomers’ rates of illicit drug use have been higher than other generations, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. As boomers are aging, rates of drug and alcohol misuse among the U.S. seniors are rapidly climbing.

In addition to being more likely to experience chronic health conditions, older adults face an increased risk for medication misuse than the general population, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Certified interventionist Louise Stanger, EdD, LCSW, CDWF, says there are several potential causes of drug and alcohol misuse to watch for in older adults. Of particular concern is loneliness and isolation, which can be caused by the death of a significant other, children growing up and moving out, and/or retirement. Major surgery, such as hip or knee replacement, can result in risky use of pain medications.

Stanger recommends watching for the following warning signs to identify potential substance use disorders:

  • Memory loss and changes in behavior, such as confusion, hostility and depression;
  • Binge drinking, including “a ritual of drinking before, during and after dinner;”
  • Reckless gambling, which Stanger says is a hidden addiction in its own right and the No. 1 process addiction among seniors;
  • Less interest in hobbies and recreational activities;
  • Poor hygiene and self-care;
  • Past due bills.

“Because someone is aging doesn’t mean their quality of life needs to be lessened,” Stanger says. “Don’t ignore warning signs.”

Louise Stanger will present at the National Conference on Alcohol and Addiction Disorders, August 19-22, 2018, at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif.


Addiction professionals annually convene at the National Conference on Addiction Disorders to share what’s working: Clinicians hear from thought leaders on delivering treatment, while executives of behavioral healthcare organizations learn how to run more effective, more efficient, and ethically minded businesses.

August 19 - 22, 2018 | Disneyland, CA