Help seeking for drug and alcohol problems among adults age 50 and older: a comparison of the NLAES and NESARC surveys

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2013 Jul 1;131(1-2):157-61. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2012.10.008. Epub 2012 Nov 8.


Background: Due to population aging and generational changes in alcohol and drug use, substance use disorders and treatment need are projected to increase among adults over 50. We analyzed data from two national surveys conducted 10 years apart [(NLAES (1991-1992) and NESARC (2001-2002)] to explore changes in help-seeking for alcohol and drug problems among adults over age 50.

Methods: Data were pooled on help seeking for substance related problems, sociodemographic and clinical variables, and services type (i.e., formal and informal). Differences between the surveys were assessed, and help seeking among those under age 50 was compared to younger individuals; changes in the sociodemographic and clinical correlates of help seeking among those over age 50 were examined.

Results: Among those 50 and older, rates of lifetime help seeking for any substance problem were higher in NESARC than NLAES, and percentages of those considering but not getting help were also higher in NESARC. Among those 50+, rates of past-year help seeking for drug use were higher in NESARC, but among those with lifetime substance use disorders, help seeking rates for alcohol and any substance were lower in the NESARC. Older help seekers in the NESARC were less likely to be White, more likely to be low income, and more likely to be current or former drug users than NLAES help seekers.

Conclusions: This study documents increased rates of help seeking for substance related problems among those 50 and older and identifies cohort differences in profile of past-year help seekers.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Alcoholism / diagnosis
  • Alcoholism / epidemiology
  • Alcoholism / therapy
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Health Surveys / methods*
  • Health Surveys / trends
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / diagnosis
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / therapy*
  • United States / epidemiology