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Older Treatment Patients Tend to Misuse Alcohol


Alcohol tends to be the drug of choice for older Americans enrolled in addiction treatment programs, according to a new report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Four of five retirees in treatment were enrolled primarily for alcohol problems, according to findings from the 2003 Treatment Episode Data Set. Only 5 percent reported primarily abusing opiates, including prescription pain medications; 4 percent reported cocaine abuse, 3 percent reported marijuana abuse, and 1 percent reported abuse of stimulants. All these rates were lower than for the general population, but the reports of alcohol abuse were higher among seniors than among patients of all ages.

“Alcohol abuse among older adults is something few want to talk about or deal with,” said SAMHSA Administrator Charles Curie. “Too often, family members are ashamed of the problem and choose not to address it. Health-care providers tend not to ask older patients about alcohol abuse if it wasn't a problem in their lives in earlier years.” 

“Sometimes, the symptoms are mistaken for those of dementia, depression, or other problems common to older adults,” added Curie. “Unfortunately, too many older persons turn to alcohol as a comfort following the death of a spouse, a divorce, retirement, or some other major life change, unaware that they are markedly affecting the quality of their lives.”

The report is published online at

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