What’s the addictive drug older Australians are turning to?

Older Australians are increasingly turning to alcohol and other drugs of addiction according to the latest government figures.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has released its report Alcohol and other drug treatment services in Australia: early insights analyses key data about Australia’s publicly funded alcohol and other drug treatment services and their clients

The report confirms alcohol as the most common drug of concern for which clients sought treatment, accounting for about 43 per cent of treatment episodes – across all age groups.

The percentage of people aged 60-plus seeking drug and alcohol treatment has steadily increased over the past decade.

In the 2015-2016 reporting period, 3.8 per cent of clients who sought treatment services were aged 60 or over. That figure for the latest reporting period, covering 2022-23, was 5.9 per cent.

It’s a trend mirrored by the 50-59 age group. The percentage of people in that cohort seeking treatment in the 2015-16 reporting period was 8.5 per cent. In the latest reporting period, it was 12.1 per cent.

Treatment concerns

In raw figures, the number of people seeking treatment for drug use aged 50-59 was just over 9000 in 2013-14. That number ballooned to 13,658 in 2021-22.

In the 60-plus age group, the numbers almost doubled. In 2013-14, 3594 in that cohort sought drug treatment, and in 2021-22, 6289 people sought drug treatment.

Surprisingly, while alcohol remains the principal drug of concern for older people, the number of older Australians seeking treatment for other drugs has also soared over the past 20 years, in some cases by multiples of hundreds.

According to the report, alcohol was an issue for 48 per cent of those who sought treatment aged 40–49; 63 per cent of those aged 50–59; and 77 per cent of people aged 60 and over.

The rate of alcohol-induced deaths is also highest for men and women aged 55-64.

But perhaps the most shocking increase has been for amphetamines.

In 2003-04 just 64 people aged 50-59 and 11 people aged 60-plus were treated for addiction to amphetamines. By 2022, those numbers had skyrocketed.

According to AIHW figures, there were 3396 treatment incidents for amphetamines for people aged 50-59 and 458 treatment incidents for people aged 60-plus.

The two other drugs blighting older Australians are heroin and cannabis.

In 2003-04 there were 270 treatments recorded for heroin addiction for those aged 50-59 and 16 for those aged 60-plus.

Heroin addiction

In comparison, for the 2022-23 reporting period, there were 1347 treatments for heroin addiction for those aged 50-59 and 313 for those aged 60-plus.

For cannabis, in 2003-04 there were 352 treatments recorded for cannabis addiction for the 50-59 cohort and 37 for the 60-plus age group. However, by 2022-23, there were 2,031 addiction treatments for the 50-59 age group and 559 for the 60-plus age group. 

And these figures are only for public treatment centres, the numbers would be even higher if private treatments were considered.

What do you think of these figures? Do you think drug use is an issue for older Australians? Why not share your opinion in the comments section below?

Also read: How to help a loved one with a gambling addiction

Jan Fisher
Jan Fisherhttp://www.yourlifechoices.com.au/author/JanFisher
Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.
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