Intended for healthcare professionals


Substance misuse in older people

BMJ 2017; 358 doi: (Published 22 August 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;358:j3885
  1. Rahul Rao, visiting researcher1,
  2. Ann Roche, director2
  1. 1South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK
  2. 2National Centre for Training and Addiction, Flinders University Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Adelaide, Australia
  1. Correspondence to: R Rao tony.rao{at}

Baby boomers are the population at highest risk

Developed countries have seen substantial increases in longevity over the past 20 years, contributing to a global demographic shift. The number of older people (aged over 50) experiencing problems from substance misuse is also growing rapidly, with the numbers receiving treatment expected to treble in the United States and double in Europe by 2020.1

In both the UK and Australia, risky drinking is declining, except among people aged 50 years and older.23 There is also a strong upward trend for episodic heavy drinking in this age group. This generational trend is not restricted to alcohol. In Australia, the largest percentage increase in drug misuse between 2013 and 2016 was among people aged 60 and over, with this age group mainly misusing prescription drugs. However, people over 50 also have higher rates than younger age groups for both past year and lifetime illicit drug misuse (notably cannabis).4 …

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