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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Substance Abuse Prevention for … Older Adults?

When considering substance abuse prevention, many think only of how we can keep our youth
from using and abusing drugs. However, there is a growing population of older adults who are in need of prevention education, as well. In the United States, 4.3 million adults over the age of 50 have used an illicit drug in the past year. About 1 in every 6 adults over 60 regularly abuse or misuse substances— primarily alcohol, prescription, or over-the-counter medications. Between 1995 and 2002, admission rates for substance abuse treatment rose 32% for older adults. When more recent data become available, it is projected that we will not only see this increase continue, but also see it rise at an even steeper rate. The older adult population is growing larger as the baby boomer generation (those born between 1946 and 1964) ages. In New Jersey, the
population over 60 makes up 17% of the total population.

Moreover, one in four residents of Ocean and Cape May counties is over the age of 60. You may be surprised to learn that New Jersey is home to more senior citizens than Florida. Adults are largely unaware that age changes the way their bodies are able to metabolize alcohol and drugs. The same glass of wine that had a minor effect at 40 years of age may have a much more profound impact at 60, due to the slowing of the body’s metabolism.

A lack of recognition of the side effects of drug therapies put older adults at an increased risk of adverse effects, particularly since older adults are more likely to be on multiple medications, which increases their risk of suffering negative drug-related consequences. All adults should understand how their prescription and over-the-counter medications interact with each other and with alcohol. Mixing alcohol with certain medications can be deadly. Age-related stresses, including loss of a job or loved one, declines in physical and mental functioning, or feelings of depression or isolation increase the risk for alcohol consumption in older adults. Many adults do not realize that consuming alcohol puts them at risk for “late-onset alcoholism,” a form of alcoholism that does not become evident until the user is over the age of 50. Knowing these
current facts and statistics already calls attention to the serious needs of the older adult; but a recent report indicates that substance abuse treatment for those over the age of 50 is expected to double by the end of this decade. We can no longer afford to neglect the needs of the seniors.
Prevention agencies can make a tremendous impact on this population and decrease their need for future treatment through proper educational activities.

The New Jersey Prevention Network (NJPN) has created a program tailored to the specific prevention needs of the older adult: the Wellness Initiative for Senior Education, or WISE program. WISE offers a comprehensive approach to wellness in the older adult and celebrates healthy aging. Participants are given the opportunity to discuss a variety of issues relevant to the older adult and increase their knowledge on how aging can affect them. They leave the program armed with tools they can use to make healthier life choices and are empowered to share their new knowledge with friends and family.

The WISE program was awarded the 2009 National Exemplary Award for Innovative
Substance Abuse Prevention Programs, Practices, and Policies by the National Association of State Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Directors. The program was also featured in an article in The Journal on Active Aging, which suggested, “If individuals understand how their lifestyle choices and behaviors impact their health, they will make more positive choices and experience better health.”

In addition to the WISE program, NCADD offers five different one-hour education programs
for seniors on topics including: Grief and Loss, Depression, Conflict Resolution, Alcohol and Medication Issues, and “Senior Jeopardy,” which includes Nutrition and Stress Management.
To learn more about these programs and to schedule a presentation at your facility, please call Alexandra Lopez, Deputy Director at 732- 254-3344.

  • New Jersey Prevention Network, www.
  • Merck Manual Home Edition,
  • U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, SAMHSA,, NSDUH, Dec. 29th, 2009, SAMHSA press release Jan. 8th, 2010
  • Journal on Active Aging, Nov/Dec 2009


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