Why Are More Senior Citizens Overdosing?

December 19, 2022

3 mins

Never Alone Recovery


With the pandemic driving rates of overdose deaths to all-time highs, new reports show an unexpected spike in overdose deaths among senior citizens. Here's what you should know.

Many of us look at substance abuse as if it doesn't affect people beyond a certain age when it's increasingly clear that this impacts senior citizens as well. 

Recently, the CDC has released reports studying this unsettling trend. The statistics imply one simple fact: Unfortunately, the rate of senior overdose deaths has increased a concerning amount in recent years. So today, we’re breaking down reports of rising rates of senior citizen overdoses. 

Findings on Senior Overdose Deaths

Before the findings can be analyzed, it is important to understand them. The CDC has released two separate reports (available here and here) discussing the rate of drug overdose deaths among seniors. While they differ somewhat in focus, they nonetheless come to many of the same conclusions. 

One such finding was that the rate of drug overdose deaths for all seniors, or adults aged 65 years and over, has tripled over the past 22 years. For men, this amounts to an increase of approximately 5 percent each year from 2000 to 2014 before this rate doubled from 2014 and beyond. On the other hand, drug overdose death rates for women doubled between 2000 and 2009 before ultimately climbing at a slower rate from 2009 to 2020.

The second CDC report revealed that more than 11,600 U.S. seniors died from complications related to alcohol in 2020. Unsurprisingly, this number has been on the rise since 2011. Accordingly, death rates from fentanyl and other synthetic opioids have also increased by 53% from 2019 to 2020 among people aged 65 and older. 

The reports further broke these statistics down by demographic group: 

  • While the increase in deaths from drug overdose and alcohol use has been rising faster in men, white women aged 75 and older have the highest death rates from drug overdose. 
  • Other than this statistic, however, drug overdose death rates are highest among black people. 
  • In addition, the highest rate of alcohol-induced deaths among those 65 and older was among American Indians or Alaska Natives. This group in particular experienced a 47 percent increase from 2019 to 2020. 
  • Among older hispanic adults, the increase was nearly 10 percent per year, before suddenly increasing to 23.1 percent in 2020. 
  • Both black and white adults experienced a similar increase to 20 percent in 2020. 

"Across demographics… overdose deaths have risen steadily, with a sudden increase in the past few years."

Across demographics, the findings are the same: overdose deaths have risen steadily, with a sudden increase in the past few years. Substance abuse is a growing problem, particularly with alcohol and more deadly drugs. 

What’s obvious from these statistics is that no matter the demographic, senior overdose deaths have been on the rise, particularly very recently. This naturally invites the question as to why.

The Implications

Naturally, these findings are extremely concerning. While the reports don’t analyze the causes of the overdoses, there are plenty of inferences that can be made. 

For instance, one of the reasons for this uptick in deaths related to substance abuse is that the baby boomer generation is now reaching older adulthood. This group has a higher rate of substance use than the previous generation. Naturally, as they age, their behavior will follow them into demographic reports. 

It can be inferred that the same causes of overdose affecting the youth are affecting older people as well. Seniors are not a monolith, nor are they separated from the rest of the population, and are privy to the same factors as younger people. Given that overdose deaths are rising among young people, it follows that seniors would share the same difficulties. 

Most ominously, it was also pointed out that the recent uptick in overdose deaths also coincides with the COVID-19 pandemic. And it has been proven that the specific circumstances of the pandemic, such as social isolation, has made addiction recovery more difficult. Without access to important social support networks, staying sober becomes a lot more challenging. 

What Happens Next?

The various factors contributing to a rise in overdose deaths, such as the effects of COVID-19 on substance abuse recovery, are able to be mitigated in many ways. One obvious way to address this rise is to increase access to addiction treatment for seniors. 

For instance, according to professor Anne Fernandez, destigmatizing addiction will allow people to seek help. Simply helping seniors find a way out can stop them from overdosing.

Find Support with Never Alone Recovery

The rise in senior overdose deaths may be frightening, but there is always hope. And whatever your age, help is always available. If you or a loved one are wondering how to choose a drug rehab, then Never Alone Recovery may be able to help. With state-of-the-art alcohol rehabs in Indiana, we have plenty of resources that could be of assistance. Follow us on social media to learn more about the help that may be available to you.

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