Rising substance abuse in over-50s

Researchers at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust have raised concerns over a rise in alcohol and drug misuse among the over-50s.

wineDr Tony Rao, Consultant Old Age Psychiatrist at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and co-author of the research, has published his findings in the British Medical Journal with Flinders University in Australia. The research projects the number of people aged over 50 receiving treatment for substance misuse is expected to treble in the United States and double in Europe by 2020.

The study outlined that in both the UK and Australia, risky drinking is declining, except among people aged 50 and older, with figures showing a strong upward trend for episodic heavy drinking. Statistics also showed a large increase in drug abuse within the age group, particularly for people misusing prescription drugs.

Alcohol was identified as the most common substance of misuse among older people, with under-detection of alcohol problems highlighted as an immediate concern. The research warned this could increase further as baby boomers get older because of their more liberal views towards and higher use of alcohol.

A lack of sound alcohol screening to detect risky drinking may result in a greater need for treatment, longer duration of treatment, heavier use of ambulance services, and higher rates of hospital admission.

Research suggests that treatment programmes adapted for older people with substance misuse were associated with better outcomes than those aimed at all age groups.  However, the authors of the study pointed out that clinicians will need improved knowledge and skills in assessing and treating older people at risk of substance misuse.

Dr Rao, who is also a visiting researcher at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London, explains:

Within our old age psychiatry services at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust we are improving the detection of drug and alcohol misuse in patients with mental health problems. By doing this we are then better able to address problems earlier and refer to specialist services if needed.

The King’s Health Partners Addictions Clinical Academic Group covers illicit drugs, alcohol and tobacco addiction and is one of the largest providers of NHS addictions services in the UK.

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