Is Addiction Strictly A Young Person's Disease?

By Keri Blakinger 12/02/15

A new study shows a surprising age group making up the majority of the recovery population.

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A recently released analysis of data shows that there’s been huge growth in the percentage of the treatment population that falls into the over 50 demographic.

Lead researcher Dr. Benjamin Han of New York University said that his group looked at the demographics of those in treatment for opioid use between 1996 and 2012 and found that, in that period, adults over 50 became the majority of the treatment population.

People in their 50s made up 8% of opioid treatment patients in 1996, but by 2012 they made up a whopping 36% of that population.

The representation of people in their 60s increased from 1.5% to 12% in the same period. Interestingly, in the over 60 population there was a 10% increase among whites, but only a 4% increase among Hispanics and a 14% decrease among blacks.

"These increases are especially striking, considering there was about a 7.6% decrease in the total patient population over that period of time, and suggests that we are facing a never before seen epidemic of older adults with substance use disorders and increasing numbers of older adults in substance abuse treatment," Han said.

While the percentage of those in treatment in older age demographics increased, the percentage of younger people in treatment decreased. Patients 40 and under made up 56% of the treatment population in 1996, but just 20% in 2012.

Although the study, published in the Journal of Substance Use & Misuse, looked at the demographics of who is in treatment for opioid addiction, it did not look at whether the demographics of who is using opiates in the first place has changed. It did, however, conclude that the current trend is likely to continue into the future and that additional research is needed to learn more about older opioid treatment patients.

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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