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New report highlights growing drug and alcohol problems for older people

, the UK’s leading membership charity for the field, today launches a report on behalf of the Recovery Partnership – It’s about time: tackling substance misuse in older people – revealing the extent to which problems among older people remain hidden.

Drawing on the results of recent studies and government figures, together with DrugScope’s own consultations with academics and health professionals and site visits to , the report highlights some disturbing trends:

  • It has been estimated that 1.4 million people aged over 65 currently exceed recommended drinking limits (1);
  • Between 2002-2010 – alcohol-related hospital admissions for men aged 65 and over have risen by 136% (2);
  • For women, the percentage rise over the same period has been 132% (2);
  • Alcohol-related death rates among those aged 55 and over have risen in the past year (3);
  • For the 75 plus group, alcohol-related deaths are at the highest level since 1991, when records began (3);
  • These trends partly reflect the health consequences of long-term drug or alcohol use, but significant numbers of older people are also ‘late starters’ using substances to self-medicate physical and psychological problems associated with getting older;
  • Older people constitute the highest group of those using prescription medicines and over the counter drugs (4);
  • The population of people in treatment for heroin problems is also aging, and their health is increasingly impaired as problems related to heroin use are compounded by the aging process (5).

The report highlights some welcome and effective specialist service provision for older people with , while calling for improved services and interventions for a group that has not been a focus at national drug and alcohol policy level or for health and social care agencies. It concludes that greater awareness of this issue is the critical first step to providing more effective support, with a need for specialist services that are age-appropriate and improved awareness and support in other care settings, including primary and social care.

Marcus Roberts, DrugScope’s Chief Executive said:

“Drug and alcohol policy and practice – and the attention of the media – invariably focuses on young people. Drugs and alcohol issues may affect older people differently, but that does not make them less real or important. They may be a symptom of other problems, such as loneliness and isolation, caring for a partner, bereavement or the struggle to make ends meet.

“The facts and figures in the report speak for themselves and with the numbers of older people as a percentage of the population continuing to rise, this is not an issue that we can ignore. The barriers to older people accessing help and support need to be addressed. These can range from a belief on the part of professionals that older people can’t change, to embarrassment on the part of the individual at having to ask for help. We also need to develop a range of age-appropriate interventions, and to make the connections between drug and alcohol issues and older people policy, both nationally and locally. It’s time to bring this largely ‘invisible’ issue into the light and to improve the support for older people with drug and alcohol issues.”

The full report is available to download as a PDF from: http://www.drugscope.org.uk/POLICY+TOPICS/OlderPeople


The Recovery Partnership is comprised of the Substance Misuse Skills Consortium, the Recovery Group UK and DrugScope. It seeks to support recovery and to be a collective voice and channel for communication to Ministers/Government on the achievement of the ambitions in the drug strategy.

(1) Wadd, S., Lapworth, K., Sullivan, M., Forrester, D. and Galvani, S. (2011) Working with older drinkers

(2) Wadd, S. and Papadopoulos, C. (2013) Drinking behaviour and alcohol-related harm amongst older adults: Analysis of existing datasets (submitted for publication)

(3) Office for National Statistics (2012) Alcohol-related deaths in the United Kingdom

(4) European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (2008) Substance use among older adults: A neglected problem.

(5) pp.5-6; Public Health England (2013) Drug treatment in England 2012-13.