These 6 Substances Are Commonly Misused By Older Adults: Here’s Why

Social Phobia Can Kill Recovery: Tips for How to Cope
Social Phobia Can Kill Recovery: Tips for How to Cope
November 30, 2018
Tips to Be Successful in Early Recovery
Tips to Be Successful in Early Recovery
December 4, 2018

Older adults are susceptible to drug abuse and substance use disorders the same as any other population. Increasingly, older adults over the age of 50 are using illicit drugs. Learn more about the substances they commonly misuse and why it is happening.


Opioid misuse gets lots of headlines but drinking rates are going up for people over age 50. Seniors are drinking in high-risk patterns at increasing rates as well, consuming more volumes of alcohol per week. Binge drinking (five or more in a single day) is on the increase for people who are older, not just college students. The reasons for increased drinking among older adults is unclear but their bodies are less efficient at metabolizing alcohol, which may lead to increased health problems.


Nearly 5 million older adults use illicit drugs and roughly 3 million of those commonly use marijuana for medicinal or other reasons. Among adults aged 60 and older, marijuana use was about equal to non-medical drug use. The challenges as a person gets older with having increased toxic substances in their body can be detrimental to their health.

Stimulants and Cocaine

Stimulants and cocaine are being used more by older adults than ever before. More than 63% of ER visits for drugs were made by adults aged 50 and older. Other stimulants misused by older adults include prescription medications for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy. They can be highly addictive with increased doses.

Opioids and Opiates

While alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine seem to be the most commonly abused substances among senior citizens, prescription drugs closely follow behind. Prescription painkillers like oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, or other opiates were most often involved in emergency room visits for adults aged 50 and older.

Sedatives, Depressants, and Tranquilizers

Prescription sedatives or depressants like diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax) and lorazepam (Ativan) are becoming more highly used among older adults. Often, these medications are used to treat anxiety, panic disorders, or trouble sleeping. These medications are in a drug class called benzos. They are intended to be taken in lower doses as a minor tranquilizer. Some people experience dependence on them, leading to an increase in their dosage.


Older adults with depression or other mood disorders may be prescribed antidepressants such as Lexapro or Cipralex, Prozac, or other similar medications. The rates of misuse go way up for these prescription medications but are still lower than other substances.

There are many factors as to why people may become addicted to drugs or prescription medication. The important thing is to pay attention to signs an older loved one may be struggling and seek help for them as soon as possible.

Sound Recovery helps you get present in the moment with our programs, services and resources. Our goal is to support treatment for the individual situation, no matter what the type of addiction or challenges. We are here to guide you through the steps to recovery. If you are struggling with addiction, let us help. Call us at 561-277-3088 to get started.

Call Now Button