According to recent projections, substance use disorders among adults over age 50 will increase to 5.7 million this year, up from 2.8 million in 2006. Experts think it remains a hidden problem because of lack of screening in primary care and few guidelines for assessing older adults at risk.

“We should be worried not only because these older adults are misusing alcohol or other substances,” says geriatric psychiatrist Susan Lehmann, “but because their aging bodies and brains are more vulnerable to harmful effects of these substances.”

Because the misuse often occurs in tandem with prescription medication use and medical comorbidities, older adults are at greater risk for falls, fractures, car accidents and other emergencies. Lehmann also believes the need for more research is great because data on changing patterns of substance use disorder over time are lacking.

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