New study shows significant changes occurring in the sociodemographic conditions of older admissions to substance abuse treatment

Admissions for substance abuse treatment among those aged 50 and older have more than doubled, and their sociodemographic characteristics have significantly changed, between 1992 and 2008, according to a study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

The findings indicate that sociodemographic factors such as unemployment, lack of income and homelessness all increased among this treatment group during this period.

From 1992 to 2008, the changes in sociodemographic characteristics of substance abuse treatment admissions aged 50 and older include:

  • Unemployment rose from 19.4 percent in 1992 to nearly 31 percent in 2008.
  • Full-time employment declined from 23.4 percent in 1992 to 16.7 percent in 2008.
  • Wages/salary as a principle source of income dropped from 32.3 percent in 1992 to 24.4 percent in 2008.
  • The percentage reporting no principal source of income at the time of admission to substance abuse treatment more than doubled from 1992 (11 percent) to 2008 (28.8 percent).

“This rise in substance abuse treatment among older adults and the changes in the socioeconomic situation of this treatment group reflect the changing landscape over the past 17 years and highlights the importance of providing additional specialized treatment services and social supports to address these needs,” said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde. “To truly battle substance abuse and lower substance abuse levels on all fronts, requires a combined effort from the federal government, states and local communities. And people of all ages need to be aware that there is help available to them so that they can take action before a substance abuse problem becomes a devastating addiction.”

Between 1992 and 2008, there was an increase in the proportion of female treatment admissions aged 50 or older (18.1 percent to 25.1 percent). In 2008, as in 1992, non-Hispanic Whites formed the majority of older admissions. However, during the 17-year period, the proportion of non-Hispanic White admissions decreased (from 65.8 percent in 1992 to 55.6 percent in 2008) while the proportion of non-Hispanic Black admissions and Hispanic admissions increased (from 19.9 to 28.8 percent and from 9.8 to 11.3 percent respectively).

The data also show shifting trends in marital status and types of living arrangements (homeless, independent living, or dependent living) among older treatment admissions.  In 2008, a greater proportion of treatment admissions of older adults reported that they had never married than in 1992.  Treatment admissions involving older adults that had never married more than doubled between in this period 1992 and 2008 (30.2 percent in 2008 versus 13.2 percent in 1992).  Conversely, there was a decrease in the proportion of older admissions who were currently married (33.3 percent in 1992 vs. 21.5 percent in 2008) or divorced/widowed (43.9 percent in 1992 vs. 21.5 percent in 2008).  Homelessness among older admissions increased from 15.9 percent in 1992 to 19.5 percent in 2008, while the percentage of admissions residing in independent living situations decreased from 72.4 to 67.1 percent.

SAMHSA conducted the study as part of the agency’s strategic initiative on data, outcomes and quality – an effort to create integrated data systems that help inform policy makers and providers on behavioral health issues.

Sociodemographic Characteristics of Substance Abuse Treatment Admissions Aged 50 or Older: 1992 and 2008 is based on data from SAMHSA’s Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS)  – a reporting system involving treatment facilities from across the country.  The full report is available on line at  For related publications and information, visit


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