Addiction Among Older Adults: A Hidden Reality

Older adults can be affected by addiction, however due to double, or triple stigma, they may not have access to the help they need

Old woman

In order to successfully address substance use disorders and other addictions by older adults, we must first acknowledge that addiction has no age limits – photo by Christian Langballe on Unsplash

By UNAD – Addiction is a phenomenon that affects people of all ages, however it is commonly associated with young people only. As a result, we are faced with a totally invisible reality that requires the attention of professionals and the general public.

Improvements in the quality of life and, above all, the development of social and health resources have enabled the world’s population to reach increasingly advanced ages, increasing the prevalence of addictions among people aged 50 and over.

Causes of addiction in older people

The onset or perpetuation of addiction problems among older adults is associated with a variety of interrelated social, economic and/or health factors, which may differ depending on their gender.

In most cases, they also suffer from highly medicalized chronic illnesses, which may lead them to resort to excessive use of prescription painkillers. This poses a significant risk to their health, as people at this age have a lower tolerance to these substances, particularly women.

Stigmatization of older people with addiction

Older people struggling with an addiction problem also face a double social stigma – associated with their age and their drug use. This stigma can even be triple for women.

This is a matter that is complex and of particular concern because it can have major consequences in terms of access to resources and retention in treatment. In addition, because of the feelings of shame they often experience, people are more likely to hide their addiction problem and therefore delay seeking help, especially women.

Treatment from a gender perspective

Treating addictions in older people from a gender perspective is essential to improving the quality of life and well-being of the people concerned. Understanding and approaching addiction based on the perspective that men and women of all ages have different experiences of it enables us to offer resources that genuinely meet their needs.

Challenges for the future

It is essential to raise awareness among the general public of the risks associated with addictions at any age. At UNAD, we are implementing the “Addiction has no age” (‘La adicción no tiene edad’) campaign, which makes the reality of drug use among the elderly visible, with a particular focus on women.

Lastly, health professionals should receive adequate training to ensure that comprehensive intervention services grounded in a gender perspective are provided, including specialized and accessible resources and treatment that meet older people’s specific needs and address all the factors likely to influence drug use.


In short, we need to make the invisible visible and continue to work to improve care for a segment of the population that will be increasingly represented in addiction services. Addiction among older people is a reality that needs to be approached from a gender-specific perspective to better understand the unique experiences and challenges they face. This is a prerequisite for effective interventions that promote a better quality of life in old age.

#OlderAdults #Addiction  #Gender #Stigma

Campaign by UNAD