Substance Use Disorder in Older Adults: Mini Review


1 Department of Family Medicine, Loma Linda University Health, USA

2 School of Medicine, Loma Linda University Health, USA



With an estimated prevalence of 4%, substance abuse amongst persons who are 65 years and older is 
increasing. The most common substances abused are alcohol, prescription drugs such as opiates and 
benzodiazepines (BZD), and over-the-counter (OTC) medications. This increase is believed to be partially 
endorsed by the baby boomer generation, born between 1946 to 1964, who had significant exposure to 
alcohol and drugs at a younger age. Substance abuse is difficult to recognize in the older adults, but once 
identified, presents its own challenges as only 18% of substance abuse treatment programs are designed for 
this growing population. Substance abuse overall may increase the risk of fractures secondary to recurrent 
falls, memory loss, sleep disturbances, anxiety, and depression. In this article, we will review the signs and 
symptoms, risk factors, screening tools, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition 
(DSM-5) diagnostic criteria, and challenges of treating substance abuse in the older adults.