The University of Iowa
The University of Iowa News Services Home News Releases UI in the News Subscribe to UI News Contact Us

University of Iowa News Release

Oct. 13, 2003

UI Study Finds Few Substance Abuse Programs For Elders

Fewer than one in five existing substance abuse programs in the United States offers services specifically designed for older adults, according to a University of Iowa investigation. The study, which appeared in the September issue of the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, suggests substance abuse in the older population is a particularly serious health concern.

All known public and private facilities listed as providing substance abuse services were surveyed. Of the 13,749 eligible programs, only 17.7 percent (2,374) reported specialized substance abuse treatment provisions for elders.

Hawaii, Kentucky and Iowa have few such programs (respectively, 11.7 percent, 12 percent and 12.7 percent) despite the relatively high numbers of people over the age of 65 in these states, based on 2001 Census Bureau.

"As the elder population continues to increase in states such as Iowa, Florida and Arizona, the sheer number of elderly with substance abuse problems will increase considerably," said Stephan Arndt, Ph.D., UI professor of psychiatry and study author. Arndt also conducted a 2002 study that revealed up to 15 percent of elder Iowans appear to be at risk for alcoholism and face special problems due to rural locations.

Both studies show an increasingly important need for developing strategies to manage late-life alcoholism.

"Either people are not getting the necessary care or they may be receiving improper care by visiting treatment facilities without elderly-specific programs in mind," said Arndt, who also is director of the Iowa Consortium for Substance Abuse Research and Evaluation.

According to Arndt, people over age 65 may have any number of special needs that differ from younger clients. Even when age-appropriate services do exist, a referral may prove an obstacle for people who cannot or do not want to drive a long distance to reach a facility that can help them.

Potential solutions involve creating more specialized programs for older adults or modifying current programs to better accommodate the special needs of elderly clients.

"The good news is that people are starting to become more aware of elders with a problem," Arndt said. "Substance abuse programs targeting elderly will become more specialized, involving more close medical monitoring and interaction with peers."

Susan Schultz, M.D., UI associate professor of psychiatry and a staff physician with the Iowa City Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and Jill Liesveld, M.D., UI associate professor (clinical) of psychiatry also served on the study team.

This project was funded in part by the Iowa Consortium for Substance Abuse Research and Evaluation, University of Iowa.

Information about the earlier study on alcoholism and older Iowans is available at:

Visit the Iowa Consortium for Substance Abuse Research and Evaluation online at

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5141 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa, 52242

MEDIA CONTACT: Becky Soglin, 319-335-6660,;
Writer: Allison Frederick