Journal of Social, Behavioral, and Health Sciences


Since the problem of substance abuse by older adults began to receive serious professional attention, the focus has been almost exclusively on alcohol abuse. This reality is changing as the “baby boomers” age. We examined data from the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (1985) and the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2006) comparing nationwide prevalence of both legal and illicit drugs. Use of drugs by category varied over the study period; some showed little change (e.g., alcohol) while others showed marked increase (e.g., marijuana, cocaine). We found that the population of older Americans in 2006 contained greater proportions of persons who had used or continued to use illicit drugs than did older Americans in 1985. Gerontologists and geriatric services will increasingly encounter older Americans who use or abuse illicit drugs.