Substance Abuse in the Elderly—An Overview
Timothy P. Condon, Ph.D.
The baby boomer generation is America’s largest thus far, and in 30 years will comprise 20 percent of the nation’s population (~70 million people). While substance abuse typically declines with age, for a variety of social, cultural, and economic reasons, baby boomers appear to be using and abusing alcohol, illicit drugs, and prescription drugs at higher rates than previous cohorts. However, little is known about how the aging brain may respond to drugs of abuse, how early drug use affects the aging process, or how drugs of abuse may interact with medical conditions associated with aging. For example, markers of dopamine function decrease both as a function of age as well as in response to drugs of abuse.
The implications of these findings for substance abuse in the aging brain are unknown. Neurotoxic indicators also show greater drug-induced effects with age, suggesting interactions between drug abuse and aging in the brain. However, more research is needed to elucidate these interactions. Changes in drug disposition and metabolism with age, as well as the preponderance of co-morbid physical and mental health conditions, may also pose greater complications for substance abuse in this population. Finally, in order to address this problem, unique considerations must be taken into account in devising effective prevention, detection, and treatment strategies for older adults. As this is an emerging field of research,
NIDA welcomes recommendations for the development of a research agenda aimed at more fully delineating the extent of the problem, the potential medical, psychological, and social consequences, as well as effective means for ameliorating the potentially devastating consequences of substance abuse in older adults.