Preview of the Tool



Substance Use:

  • Many older adults begin to have problems with their substance use during times of transition or loss (e.g. forced retirement, bereavement, new or escalating health concerns, loss of independence)
  • Their relationship to the substance is based on an emotional need to feel better or deal with loss
  • Some older adults cannot access and/or do not feel comfortable in mainstream addictions services
  • Problems with substance use are often not recognized by health and community service providers so help is not offered
  • The older generation is more likely to experience self stigmatization which reduces the chance of seeking treatment and service

Health and Aging

  • Older adults often have complex and/or chronic health conditions that require they take pharmaceutical medications that can interact with each other and non prescribed substances (e.g. alcohol, marijuana)
  • Older adults metabolize substances in a different way
  • Psychosocial factors such as boredom, loneliness and homelessness are linked to higher alcohol use (Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2011)
  • Anecdotal clinical experience is that elderly have more prolonged and severe withdrawal than younger patients, and are more likely to develop complications such as delirium
  • It is not uncommon to find that older people with chronic substance misuse have had multiple head injuries resulting in symptoms of acquired brain injury that is affecting their reasoning and decision making capabilities.
  • Older adults with some degree of cognitive impairment and/or functional losses are often misdiagnosed with dementia when in fact there may be a substance misuse or addictions issue.

Introduction to Older Adults and Substance Use


Stay in Touch


National Initiative for the Care of the Elderly (NICE)
246 Bloor Street West, Room 234
Toronto, Ontario M5S 1V4, Canada