Background: There is concern that as the baby boom population ages in the US, there will be a substantial increase in the number of older adults needing treatment for substance abuse problems. To address this concern, projections of future treatment need for older adults (defined as age 50 and older) were made. Methods: Using data from the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, regression models including predictors of treatment need in 2000 and 2001 were developed. Treatment need was defined as having a DSM-IV alcohol or illicit drug use disorder in the past year. Regression parameters from these models were applied to the projected 2020 population to obtain estimates of the number of older adults needing treatment in 2020. Results: The number of older adults in need of substance abuse treatment is estimated to increase from 1.7 million in 2000 and 2001 to 4.4 million in 2020. This is due to a 50 percent increase in the number of older adults and a 70 percent increase in the rate of treatment need among older adults. Conclusions: The aging baby boom cohort will place increasing demands on the substance abuse treatment system in the next two decades, requiring a shift in focus to address the special needs of an older population of substance abusers. There is also a need to develop improved tools for measuring substance use and abuse among older adults.
Substance abuse treatment need among older adults in 2020: The impact of the aging baby-boom cohort