Substance use and ageing: Older people’s experiences of drug use and its impacts across the life course

First published: 10 May 2019 | Last updated: 20 May 2019

Source of funding: Part funding from NHS R&D Services for Older People in Primary Care Coordinated by Halton & St Helens PCT

Conflicts of interest: None


To explore older people’s experiences and histories of drug use from the perspectives of users;

To identify future research on substance use and older people and inform future development of services and support required.

Design: Qualitative research

Setting: Community study, voluntary sector agency, Merseyside.

Participants: A convenience sample of 10 problematic drug users aged 50 years and over.

Methods: Taped interviews were conducted using a semi-structured interview and prompts. 11 interviews were completed (n=10). Data were collected on demography, biography, history and career of drug use, family and social networks, employment, health, lifestyle and well-being, service use and finance. The tapes have been transcribed and thematic content analysis undertaken by the project team, with discussion and agreement on the themes identified.

Findings:  Preliminary findings indicate that drug use across the life course can have negative impacts on health and well-being, employment, relationships, social networks, finance and service use. Two categories of user have been identified, early onset use of drugs commencing as recreational and later life onset of use due to impact of life events and relations. Life review and reflection was common, in keeping with general ageing populations, along with a wish to stop using drugs or to continue to remain abstinent. Anticipated future life plans were positive and based on review of past experiences.

Conclusions: Drug use among ageing populations is a neglected area of research, constitutes a chronic condition with negative and positive impacts. Analysis and write up of this study is on-going with further research planned.


Reference: Beynon, C., McVeigh, J., Roe, B. (2007) Problematic Drug Use, Ageing and Older Populations: Trends in the Age of Drug Users in Contact with Drug Treatment and Syringe Exchange Programmes. Ageing and Society. 27,  799-810.


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Professor Brenda Roe