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Epidemiology of alcohol and drug use in the elderly
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Purpose of review: Alcohol and drug abuse among older adults is a topic of growing public health concern. The authors review the recent epidemiological surveys of this emerging trend and outline some public health challenges for the coming future.
Recent findings: Relevant studies showed that prevalence of substance use disorders is increasing among American and European elders. Although treatment admissions involving use of alcohol have slightly decreased, rates involving misuse of prescription medications and illicit drugs have increased. As older adults were less likely than younger adults to recognize substance use as problematic or to use treatment services, elders were as likely to benefit from treatment as younger people. Healthcare settings should be prepared to treat this population.
Summary: There is robust epidemiological evidence showing that alcohol and drug abuse among the elderly are current health problems in developed regions. The number of older adults will increase in less developed regions in the next decades, but it is unclear whether this population subgroup will also seek treatment for substance use to a greater extent. Investigations of the sexual difference and cross-cultural variation can help tailor effective interventions. Routine screening programmes to address the needs of the ageing substance-using population are recommended.