Alcohol, tobacco, and nonmedical drug use in older U.S. Adults: data from the 2001/02 national epidemiologic survey of alcohol and related conditions

J Am Geriatr Soc. 2009 Dec;57(12):2275-81. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.2009.02554.x. Epub 2009 Oct 26.


Objectives: To examine the prevalence and sociodemographic and health-related correlates of substance use, including alcohol, tobacco, and nonmedical drug use, in adults aged 65 and older.

Design: Cross-sectional, retrospective survey of a population-based sample, the 2001/02 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions.

Setting: United States.

Participants: Eight thousand two hundred five U.S. adults aged 65 and older.

Measurements: Prevalence of lifetime and previous-12-month alcohol, tobacco, and nonmedical drug use and associations between substance use and sociodemographic and health-related factors.

Results: Almost 80% of older adults had used any of the three substances over their lifetimes, and more than 50% reported such use over the previous 12 months. Alcohol was the most commonly used substance over the lifetime (74%) and in the previous 12 months (45%), followed by tobacco (52% lifetime; 14% previous 12 months); far fewer reported nonmedical use of drugs (5% lifetime; 1% previous 12 months). In general, being younger, male, and divorced or separated were factors consistently associated with use of any of the three substances.

Conclusion: Most older adults had used substances over their lifetimes and in the previous 12 months. Alcohol is the substance of choice for this age group, followed by tobacco; few report nonmedical drug use.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Drug Utilization / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nonprescription Drugs / administration & dosage*
  • Prevalence
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Smoking / epidemiology*


  • Nonprescription Drugs