Common Substances Abused by the Elderly

Content medically reviewed by Vicky Magobet, PMHNP-BC, on December 29, 2021.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, approximately 1 million adults aged 65 and older have a substance use disorder (SUD). Aging may lead to physical, mental and social changes that increase the risk of developing a drug addiction. Older adults tend to metabolize substances slowly, making their bodies and brains more sensitive to drugs.

Older adults can also be more susceptible to lung and heart problems, mood disorders and memory issues — conditions that worsen with substance use. Some drugs also impair coordination, judgment and reaction time, which can result in accidents like falls and car crashes.

Common Drugs Abused by the Elderly

Some of the most common drugs abused by the elderly include:


The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that alcohol is the most used substance among older adults, with 65% of adults 65 and older reporting high-risk drinking behaviors like binge drinking.

Alcohol use disorder puts older adults at greater risk of congestive heart failure, diabetes, liver problems, high blood pressure, memory issues and many other health problems.


Opioid drugs are often prescribed to older adults dealing with persistent pain and serious health conditions like heart disease and cancer. Unfortunately, opioids can be highly addictive. Opioid abuse in older adults can cause respiratory issues, cognitive impairment, nausea and constipation.


Marijuana is sometimes prescribed for medical use to treat issues like pain, depression and insomnia. When taken outside of the prescribed dosage, marijuana can cause older adults to experience dizziness, blurred vision, anxiety and paranoia.


Benzodiazepines, also known as benzos, are prescription medications typically used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders. Many older adults are prescribed benzos on a long-term basis, which can lead to dependence and withdrawal symptoms when stopped. Benzos can also impair mobility, cognition and driving skills in older adults, increasing the risk of falls and car accidents.


Nicotine found in cigarettes is highly addictive. For older adults, smoking cigarettes increases their risk of developing lung disease, cancer, dementia and heart disease. As a result, the mortality rate among older adults who smoke is significantly higher than among older adult nonsmokers.

Treatment for Substance Abuse in Older Adults

As elderly drug abuse rates continue to rise, effective substance abuse treatment is crucial. At Diamond House Detox, we provide individualized inpatient care for those struggling with drug addiction. Browse our available programs and contact us for more information.