Prescription and Illicit Drug Abuse

Frequently Asked Questions

21. How can an older person avoid abusing or becoming addicted to illicit drugs?

Preventing illicit drug use in older populations requires first knowing what contributes to it. For people of all ages, an individual’s biology (including their genetics) and the environment, as well as how the two act together, determine a person’s vulnerability to drug abuse and addiction -- or can protect against it. For example, being exposed to drugs of abuse in youth, living in a community where drug use is prevalent, having an untreated mental health problem, such as depression, or dealing with difficult transition periods such as retirement or loss of a spouse, can all make an older adult more vulnerable to drug abuse.

Prevention efforts must focus on gaining a better understanding of the factors that promote illicit drug use in older adults. Prevention also includes finding ways to stop drug use before it worsens and leads to health problems, including addiction. Family members can play an important role by being aware of an older relative’s well-being and possible drug abuse, and stepping in to help at an early stage, if necessary. Doctors should ask their older patients about potential drug abuse and make referrals as needed.