Drug and alcohol misuse among baby boomers a 'rapidly growing problem', warn experts

People over 50 have higher rates of illegal drug use than younger age groups, researchers say

Benjamin Kentish
Tuesday 22 August 2017 23:30 BST
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Alcohol is the most common substance misused by over 50s
Alcohol is the most common substance misused by over 50s (Rex)

Alcohol and drug misuse among baby boomers is a “rapidly growing problem” and must be dealt with “urgently”, experts have warned.

Researchers said problematic drinking among adults in the UK and Australia is declining in every age group except over 50s. The number of people in this group receiving treatment for substance abuse is forecast to double in Europe and treble in the United States by 2020.

Problems relating to retirement, bereavement, lack of contact with friends and family, and social isolation have all been linked to the rise.

In an article for the British Medical Journal (BMJ), Rahul Rao of South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and Ann Roche from Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, reported a “strong upward trend” for binge drinking among people over the age of 50, including an “increasing proportion” of women.

They call for an international approach to tackle the issue, including more of a focus on prevention and detecting people who may be vulnerable.

In Australia, the biggest rise in the number of people misusing drugs between 2013 and 2016 was among those aged 60 and above, with prescription drugs the most common substances used.

People over 50 also have higher rates than younger age groups of illegal drug use, particularly cannabis.

Alcohol is the most common substance misused by older people.

The researchers said doctors and nurses need better training in how to detect and treat drug and alcohol misuse in older age groups. They called for specific treatment programmes that are targeted at older people, saying evidence shows these are more successful than those aimed at all age groups.

“Age adapted programmes resulted in less severe addiction, higher rates of abstinence, improved health status, and better aftercare,” they said. “Assessment, treatment, and recovery plans require careful consideration of age specific clinical needs.”

Failure to detect misuse early can lead to a greater need for medical treatment, longer treatments, more reliance on ambulances and higher rates of hospital admission, the researchers said.

“There remains an urgent need for better drug treatments for older people with substance misuse, more widespread training, and above all a stronger evidence base for both prevention and treatment,” they wrote.

“The clinical complexity of older adults with substance misuse demands new solutions to a rapidly growing problem. So far, there has been little sign of a coordinated international approach to integrated care.”

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