close up of bottle pouring pills into hand

The numbers of older adults dying from drug and alcohol abuse continue to soar, according to two reports released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.

The studies found more than 5,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2020 and more than twice that many (11,616) died from alcohol-induced causes.

Deaths from both have been rising for the past two decades. Drug overdose deaths more than tripled over the past 20 years among older adults, increasing from 2.4 deaths per 100,000 people in 2000 to 8.8 deaths in 2020. Alcohol-induced deaths began increasing in 2011 and rose more than 18% between 2019 and 2020. Alcohol-related deaths were three times higher among men ages 65 to 74 than women in the same age group. Alcohol-related deaths were four times higher among men over age 75 than women in the same age range.

The report found Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are having a devastating effect on older Americans. The death rate from those drugs increased more than 50% between 2019 and 2020 in people 65 and older. 

The studies only included data collected prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Another recent study of 2,600 American adults found the pandemic exacerbated drug and alcohol use due to increased social isolation and loneliness. Participants who filled out daily diaries said they were more likely to use non-cannabis drugs and alcohol on days when they were under lockdown or felt severe loneliness. 

An estimated 1 million adults 65 and older live with a substance abuse disorder, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The institute said drug and alcohol can worsen mood disorders, cognitive functions, lung and heart problems in older adults. They can also lead to falls — a leading cause of injury deaths in seniors.