A leading addictions psychiatrist says treatment programs need to address the increase.


  • 45-64 year-olds made up 44 per cent of substance abuse patients at two leading mental health hospitals
  • In 2016, they made up 35 per cent of all patients
  • Female patients growing, making up 51 per cent of substance abuse patients in 2017

New patient treatment data from a leading mental health hospital reveals older Australians, particularly women, are seeking treatment for substance abuse.

Wesley Hospital, in Ashfield and Kogarah, has provided world-class treatment to Australians suffering from mental health conditions for more than 60 years.

Since 2011, it has treated almost 1500 inpatients and day patients for substance abuse, however in the last two years, the hospital has seen a sharp increase in older Australians seeking treatment.

In 2017, 44 per cent of overnight patients receiving treatment for substance abuse were aged between 45 and 64 years – the highest of any age group – up from 35 per cent in 2016. The number of female patients receiving overnight treatment for substance abuse also increased, to 51 per cent in 2017, up from 44 per cent in 2016.

Dr Lisa Juckes, a leading addictions psychiatrist and Clinical Director of the Addictions Recovery Unit at Wesley Hospital in Ashfield, said the growth could be attributed to the large number of women suffering from significant trauma, together with other mental health factors. She said that recovery programs need to address the increase in older generations seeking treatment, by being more trauma-informed and addressing the significant psychiatric comorbidity with alcohol and other substance use issues.

“There are rising numbers of middle-aged people, particularly women, whose relationship with alcohol has reached concerning levels who are seeking treatment from our service,” Dr Juckes said. “Substance abuse stems from a number of causes, such as self-medicating for anxiety, depression and stress, but it is also commonly the result of early life trauma and domestic violence which can have a long-lasting impact on a woman, and alcohol and other substance use can be part of an attempt to cope with the painful sequel.”

The Wesley Hospital findings complement the National Drug Strategy Household Survey that shows high-risk drinking is rising among 40-to-69-year-olds.[1] Among females, those in their 50s are now the most likely to exceed the lifetime risk guidelines for alcohol, rising from 11.2 per cent in 2007 to 13 per cent in 2016.[2] Conversely, there was a sharp decline among people aged 18 to 24.[3]

“Historically, women aged 18 to 29 were more likely to exceed the lifetime risk guidelines for alcohol and drugs, but this statistic is changing,” Dr Juckes said. “We’re seeing older people coming forward for substance abuse treatment who have developed problems later in life, but the majority had started using when they were younger, and the cohort is now ageing. Many are experiencing adverse physical and mental health consequences as a result of their using, perhaps over more than two or three decades. The social disability is also significant with many having lost employment, broken relationships, and facing homelessness and poverty.”

An added concern, according to Dr Juckes, is the increasing number of people in their 40s and 50s seeking treatment for cocaine, methamphetamine (or ‘ice’), and other drug use, although specific treatment programs for them are unavailable.

“It’s vital that people approaching or traversing middle-age – and who fall into the category of heavy or ‘grey area’ drinkers, or are drug dependent – take active measures to reassess their relationship with drugs and alcohol,” Dr Juckes said. “Although people find it hard to talk to someone about their addiction – which often results in delaying treatment – there are programs available that, in addition to medical care, can assist a person to modify their lifestyle, such as Wesley Hospital’s evidence-based psychological therapy programs.”

Treatment at Wesley Hospital starts with a 28-day inpatient detox program, with round the clock nursing care to help patients ‘get clean’. Patients receive group and individual psychological therapy, to help them identify and manage the triggers of substance use, and learn to address the thoughts and behaviours that maintain addiction.

Programs also equip them with the skills to modify their lifestyle and prevent relapse in early recovery, which continues with the ongoing support in day treatment programs.


[1] AIHW, National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2016: Key findings, “Alcohol use: Very high risk drinking increasing among older people,”https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/illicit-use-of-drugs/ndshs-2016-key-findings/contents/alcohol-use.

[2] AIHW, National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2016: Key findings, “Alcohol use: The female age group most likely to exceed the lifetime risk guidelines has changed,” https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/illicit-use-of-drugs/ndshs-2016-key-findings/contents/alcohol-use.

[3] AIHW, National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2016: Detailed findings, “Alcohol Risk: Current Risky Drinking and trends,” p. 37:https://www.aihw.gov.au/getmedia/15db8c15-7062-4cde-bfa4-3c2079f30af3/21028a.pdf.aspx?inline=true.

About Wesley Hospital

Wesley Hospital (wesleymission.org.au/hospital) has provided world-class treatment for mental health conditions for more than 60 years to patients from all over Australia. Its two private Sydney centres – Wesley Hospital Ashfield and Wesley Hospital Kogarah – offer evidence-based psychiatric, nursing and psychological support to help in the recovery, management and prevention of eating disorders, depression, anxiety, addiction and other mental health conditions. The highly experienced team of medical professionals includes renowned leaders in mental health research and treatment. Wesley Hospital is run by Wesley Mission. For more information, visit wesleymission.org.au/hospital.