Drug Addiction Is a Serious Problem for Teens and Senior Citizens Too

Teen and senior are standing together

Throughout much of American history, drug addiction and alcohol abuse were seen as hardships faced by adult men and women. Traditionally, when people think of an addict, an image of someone in their 30s, 40s, or 50s is likely what comes to mind.

This notion must be dispelled, however, because recent scientific studies have shown that it’s no longer just middle-aged Americans struggling with substance abuse. Increasingly, data suggests addiction is a serious problem for adults, teens, and seniors.

Studies Highlight Concern for Teens and Their Experimentation with Drugs and Alcohol

Drug-related fatalities for teen boys and girls in the U.S. began to climb in 2019, alarming public health experts. While many studies have drawn a connection between spiking overdose fatalities in recent years and the Covid-19 pandemic, a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that such deaths for teens began months before the pandemic arrived in the United States.

Teenagers using drug in the apartments

According to CDC’s State Unintentional Drug Overdose Reporting System, overdose rates for 10-to-19-year-olds spiked 94% from 2019 to 2020. When CDC researchers added 2021’s recently completed overdose figures, the researchers found that teen deaths spiked 109%, the most extreme and most rapid increase in deaths for this age bracket since recording began.

The researchers isolated fentanyl as the primary culprit behind the spike in teen overdose deaths because while overall drug-related deaths rose 109% in 2020 and 2021, teen deaths involving fentanyl soared 182% from 2019 to 2021. Further, about nine in ten recorded deaths involved at least one opioid, and eight in ten involved a fentanyl opioid. Approximately 25% of the deaths involved “counterfeit pills” (illicit opioids made to look like legitimate prescription opioids).

Fentanyl has become increasingly available to young people. Most public health experts believe that this has caused a spike in fatal overdoses. Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, spoke to this point. “Over the past few years, there has been a marked expansion in the drug supply of illicit fentanyl, a cheap, very potent synthetic opioid drug. While people may seek out fentanyl intentionally in some cases, many people are not aware whether the drug they are using contains fentanyl, which can put them at high risk of overdosing. It is absolutely crucial to educate young people that pills purchased via social media, given to someone by a friend, or obtained from an unknown source may contain deadly fentanyl.” A critical challenge in the future will be for law enforcement to prevent fentanyl from getting into the hands of youths. Even more importantly, policymakers and public education officials must create information campaigns to inform young people why they must stay away from all drugs, as any drug could have fentanyl in it.

Of particular concern, the CDC report also outlined how drug use per capita is trending downwards for young people, meaning fewer teens are using drugs than in previous years. However, overdose deaths have skyrocketed in recent years, suggesting that the type of drug use teens engage in is becoming increasingly dangerous.

America’s Seniors are Also at Increased Risk of Abusing Drugs and Alcohol

An old man is buying alcohol in a supermarket

Just as information was brought forth highlighting a 109% increase in teen drug overdoses, a second body of information was published around the same time highlighting a 300% increase since the year 2000 in fatal overdoses among Americans over the age of 65. In 2020, more than 5,000 Americans over 65 died from drug overdoses, three times the number who died from overdoses in the year 2000.

Just as with teens, fentanyl was isolated as being a key cause of the spike in deaths among older Americans. According to the CDC, fentanyl-related deaths among seniors shot up 53% between 2019 and 2020.

It’s not just drug-related deaths that have skyrocketed either. Alcohol-related deaths for older Americans are also on the rise. According to another CDC report, 11,600 seniors died from alcohol-related causes in 2020. The report indicated that alcohol-induced death rates among seniors have been on the rise since 2011, jumping more than 18% from 2019 to 2020.

The sharp increase in substance abuse among older Americans (and the deaths that resulted from it) has been so serious that medical experts across the field are warning the public of the risks at hand, from family doctors to associate professors. One such doctor, Anne Fernandez of Ann Arbor, Michigan, commented on the findings and why older Americans may struggle with addiction. “I am struck by the increase in fatality from alcohol and drug use among both older adults and among younger adults, as well. The two things that stand out to me are deaths from alcohol-associated liver disease and deaths from a drug overdose. The baby boomer generation is now reaching older adulthood, and baby boomers historically have higher rates of substance use than the generation before.” Both today’s youths and senior citizens face unique risk factors and generational social trends that are putting them at higher risk compared to previous generations of teens and elderly Americans.

What Can Be Done to Keep Teens and Seniors Safe?

Senior woman and grandson reading articles on internet

Concerned family members and loved ones should take action to prevent their loved ones from experimenting with drugs. There are also action steps to be taken when one finds out that a loved one is addicted to a substance. Families should commit to things like:

  • Promoting prevention and education
  • Learning how to respond to an overdose
  • Monitoring risky behaviors and potential indicators of drug use
  • Educating teens and seniors about the risks of drugs and alcohol
  • Educating family members and friends on the signs of addiction
  • Getting training on how to use naloxone, the opioid reversal medication
  • Ensuring access to effective treatment options for drug and alcohol addiction

Finally, if and when it is found that a loved one is experimenting with drugs and alcohol, fast action must be taken by their family members to help that loved one enter treatment. Now more than ever, drug experimentation is a life-or-death prospect. People are dying from drug overdoses after just one usage, but qualified, residential drug treatment centers can halt the dwindling spiral of addiction.

Please don’t wait until it is too late for your loved one. Contact a rehab center today.


  • USNews. “Pandemic Brought Surge in Teen Drug Overdose Deaths.” U.S. News, 2022. usnews.com
  • CDC. “Weekly / December 16, 2022 / 71(50);1576–1582.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022. cdc.gov
  • CDC. “Drug Overdose Deaths in Adults Aged 65 and Over: United States, 2000–2020.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022. cdc.gov
  • CDC. “Alcohol-induced Deaths in Adults Aged 65 and Over: United States, 2019 and 2020.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022. cdc.gov
  • USNews. “Fatal Drug Overdoses Among U.S. Seniors Have Tripled Since 2000.” U.S. News, 2022. usnews.com



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.