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N ational S urvey on D rug Use and H ealth

The NSDUH Report April 22, 2005

Substance Use among


Older Adults: 2002 and
2003 Update
A
lthough substance use is more
In Brief
common among younger adults
● In 2002 and 2003, 17.1 (aged 18 to 49) than among
percent of persons aged 50 or older adults (aged 50 or older), the
older had smoked cigarettes, misuse of alcohol and the use of illicit
45.1 percent drank alcohol, drugs are increasing among older
and 1.8 percent had used an adults.1,2 The National Survey on Drug
illicit drug during the past Use and Health (NSDUH) asks persons
month aged 12 or older to report their sub-
● Older adults were less likely stance use, including cigarettes, alcohol,
to have used cigarettes, and illicit drugs. NSDUH defines “any
alcohol, or illicit drugs during illicit drug” use as use of marijuana/
the past month than younger hashish, cocaine (including crack),
adults inhalants, hallucinogens, heroin, or
prescription-type drugs used non-
● Among older adults, males
medically.3 This report examines the
were more likely than females
prevalence of cigarette, alcohol, and
to be past month cigarette
smokers, alcohol users, binge illicit drug use among older adults as
drinkers, heavy drinkers, or compared with younger adults. All
illicit drug users findings presented in this report are
annual averages based on combined
2002 and 2003 NSDUH data.4
The NSDUH Report (formerly The NHSDA Report) is published periodically by the Office of Applied Studies, Substance Abuse and Mental Health
Services Administration (SAMHSA). All material appearing in this report is in the public domain and may be reproduced or copied without permission
from SAMHSA. Additional copies of this report or other reports from the Office of Applied Studies are available online: http://www.oas.samhsa.gov
Citation of the source is appreciated. For questions about this report, please e-mail: shortreports@samhsa.hhs.gov
NSDUH REPORT: SUBSTANCE USE AMONG OLDER ADULTS: 2002 AND 2003 UPDATE April 22, 2005

Cigarette, Alcohol, and


Figure 1. Percentages of Past Month Cigarette, Alcohol, and Illicit Drug
Illicit Drug Use among Use among Older and Younger Adults: 2002 and 2003
Older Adults
Combined 2002 and 2003 Aged 50 or Older
NSDUH data indicated that an 70% Aged 18 to 49
estimated 17.1 percent of persons 60.0
60%
aged 50 or older (13.7 million
persons) had smoked cigarettes in 50% 45.1
the past month (Figure 1). An
estimated 45.1 percent of older 40%
33.4 31.5
adults (36.0 million persons) 30%
drank alcohol in the past month.
Approximately 12.2 percent of 20% 17.1
12.2 11.6
older adults reported binge 9.7
10%
alcohol use5 and 3.2 percent 3.2 1.8
reported heavy alcohol use.6 An 0%
estimated 1.8 percent of older Cigarette Alcohol Binge Alcohol Heavy Alcohol Illicit Drug
Use Use Use Use Use
adults (1.4 million persons) had
used an illicit drug in the past
month. Marijuana was the most
commonly used illicit drug
Figure 2. Percentages of Past Month Cigarette, Alcohol, and Illicit Drug
(1.1 percent), followed by
Use among Older Adults, by Gender: 2002 and 2003
prescription-type drugs used
nonmedically (0.7 percent) and
cocaine (0.2 percent). Older 60%
54.4 Males
adults were less likely to have Females
used cigarettes, alcohol, and illicit 50%
drugs during the past month than
younger adults. 40% 37.2

30%
Demographic
19.7 19.2
Differences 20%
14.9
In 2002 and 2003, males aged
10% 6.3 6.1
50 or older were more likely to
2.3 1.4
report substance use than females 0.8
0%
in this age group (Figure 2).7 For Cigarette Alcohol Binge Alcohol Heavy Alcohol Illicit Drug
example, the rate of past month Use Use Use Use Use
binge alcohol use was three times
greater among older males than
older females (19.2 vs. 6.3 per- older males than older females. drugs tended to be greater among
cent), and the rate of past month The rate of past month marijuana older females than older males
heavy alcohol use was more than use was more than two times (0.9 vs. 0.6 percent), although the
7 times greater among older greater among older males than difference was not statistically
males than older females (6.1 vs. older females (1.5 vs. 0.6 per- significant.
0.8 percent). Past month illicit cent). However, the rate of non- Past month cigarette use by
drug use also was greater among medical use of prescription-type older adults was significantly
April 22, 2005 NSDUH REPORT: SUBSTANCE USE AMONG OLDER ADULTS: 2002 AND 2003 UPDATE

2. Korper, S. P., & Council, C. L. (Eds.). (2002).


Substance use by older adults: Estimates of
Figure 3. Percentages of Past Month Cigarette, Alcohol, and Illicit Drug future impact on the treatment system (DHHS
Publication No. SMA 03-3763, Analytic Series
Use among Older Adults, by Race/Ethnicity: 2002 and 2003 A-21). Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and
Mental Health Services Administration, Office
of Applied Studies. Available at
60% http://www.oas.samhsa.gov/analytic.htm
Non-Hispanic White
3. NSDUH defines nonmedical use of prescription-
Non-Hispanic Black
type drugs as use not prescribed for the
50% or African-American
48.3 respondent by a physician or use only for the
Hispanic or Latino experience or feeling they caused. Nonmedical
use of any prescription-type pain reliever,
40% sedative, stimulant, or tranquilizer does not
33.6 include over-the-counter drugs.
30.2
4. The estimates for persons aged 50 years or
30%
older who used cigarettes, alcohol, and illicit
22.6 drugs in their lifetime and during the past year
were similar for 2002 and 2003. The 2002 and
20% 17.0 2003 NSDUH data were combined to increase
13.8 13.7 14.1 the sample size.
12.1
10% 5. NSDUH defines binge alcohol use as drinking
3.4 2.6 3.4 five or more drinks on the same occasion (i.e.,
1.9 2.0 1.5 at the same time or within a couple of hours of
0% each other) on at least 1 day in the past 30
days.
Cigarette Alcohol Binge Alcohol Heavy Alcohol Illicit Drug
Use Use Use Use Use 6. NSDUH defines heavy alcohol use as drinking
five or more drinks on the same occasion (i.e.,
at the same time or within a couple of hours of
each other) on each of 5 or more days in the
greater among non-Hispanic (0.9 percent) than among past 30 days. All heavy alcohol users also are
binge alcohol users.
blacks (22.6 percent) than among Hispanics (0.2 percent). Also,
7. When comparing substance use by gender
non-Hispanic whites (17.0 per- there were no significant differ- among persons aged 50 or older, age has a
cent) and Hispanics (13.8 percent) ences in the rates of binge alcohol confounding effect because females as a
group are older than males. However, adjusting
(Figure 3). Past month alcohol use or heavy alcohol use across the percentages of substance use for older
use by older adults was greater these racial/ethnic groups. adult males and females to control for age
reduces, but does not eliminate, gender
among non-Hispanic whites differences.
(48.3 percent) than among non-
End Notes
Hispanic blacks (30.2 percent) or Figure Note
1. Blow, F. C. (2000). Substance abuse among
Hispanics (33.6 percent). For older adults: An invisible epidemic. In F. C. Blow
Source: SAMHSA, 2002 and 2003 NSDUH.
older adults, overall illicit drug (Ed., Consensus Panel Chair), Substance
abuse among older adults (DHHS Publication
use in the past month did not dif- No. SMA 98-3179, Treatment Improvement
fer significantly by race/ethnicity, Protocol (TIP) Series 26, Chapter 1). Rockville,
MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health
but marijuana use was greater Services Administration, Office of Applied
among non-Hispanic whites (1.2 Studies. Available at
http://www.health.org/govpubs/BKD250/
percent) and non-Hispanic blacks

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health International in Research Triangle Park, North National findings (DHHS Publication No. SMA 03-
(NSDUH) is an annual survey sponsored by the Carolina. (RTI International is a trade name of 3836, NSDUH Series H-22). Rockville, MD:
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Research Triangle Institute.) Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services
Administration (SAMHSA). Prior to 2002, this Administration.
Information and data for this issue are based on
survey was called the National Household
the following publications and statistics: Also available online: http://www.oas.samhsa.gov
Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA). The 2002 and
2003 data are based on information obtained Office of Applied Studies. (2004). Results from the Because of improvements and modifications to
from 135,910 persons aged 12 or older, including 2003 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: the 2002 NSDUH, estimates from the 2002 and
11,401 persons aged 50 or older. The survey National findings (DHHS Publication No. SMA 04- 2003 surveys should not be compared with
collects data by administering questionnaires to 3964, NSDUH Series H-25). Rockville, MD: estimates from the 2001 or earlier versions of the
a representative sample of the population Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services survey to examine changes over time.
through face-to-face interviews at their place of Administration.
residence. Office of Applied Studies. (2003). Results from the
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES
Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration
The NSDUH Report is prepared by the Office of 2002 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Office of Applied Studies
Applied Studies (OAS), SAMHSA, and by RTI www.samhsa.gov