The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

A Bibliometric Analysis of Research On Substance Abuse Among Older Adults In the Leading Aging and Substance Abuse Literature

Saturday, January 19, 2013
Grande Ballroom A, B, and C (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Amanda E. Hunsaker, LSW, MPH, Doctoral Student, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Rafael J. Engel, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Yael Engel, Undergraduate Student, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Daniel Rosen, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Background and Purpose: Following the 1999 call to action from the U.S. Surgeon General to advance the knowledge base on mental health and substance abuse, aging-related social and behavioral research responded with a flourishing literature on the biological, neurological and psychosocial impact of mental health disorders on older adults. Unfortunately, particularly within gerontology research, the same treatment has not been given to substance and alcohol use disorders and their related treatment modalities. The goal of this presentation is to examine the extent to which studies of alcohol abuse, illicit drug use, and prescription drug abuse among older adults appears in the leading gerontological and substance abuse journals between 2000 and 2010. Methods: A bibliometric study of the 10 social science gerontological journals and the 10 social science substance abuse journals with the highest 5-year impact factors was conducted. Articles were retrieved from PubMed (the National Library of Medicine) and classified based on Medical Subject Headings (MeSH), titles and/or abstracts related to aging and drug/alcohol abuse. All identified articles (n=526) were then reviewed by the authors to ensure they met the inclusion criteria, presenting original research on older adults age 50 and older and alcohol, substance, or prescription abuse. Articles were excluded that controlled for alcohol, substance, or medication abuse or primarily focused on tobacco smoking/use or gambling. Results: From the years 2000 through 2010, of the 19,953 articles published in top ten gerontological and substance abuse journals, 181 articles met the inclusion/exclusion criteria of reporting findings related to substance use disorders among older adults. Specifically, 0.9% (102 of 11,700) of articles from the top ten gerontology journals and 1.0% (79 of 8,253) of articles in the top ten substance abuse journals met the criteria. Most published articles addressed alcohol misuse/abuse or polysubstance abuse with few articles addressing illicit drug use or the misuse of prescription medications. Overall, the annual percentage of articles devoted to substance use disorders among older adults remained relatively uniform. Conclusions and Implications: Less than 1% of articles published in the 10 aging journals and the 10 substance abuse journals with the highest five-year impact scores addressed substance abuse by adults 50 and over. The number of older adults abusing alcohol, illicit substances, and prescription medications is growing, as is the number of older adults seeking treatment. The top tier journals in gerontology and substance abuse play an essential role in defining the direction of the field, and social work practitioners treating health and/or mental health problems are left at a disadvantage in accurately identifying and treating these conditions in older adult populations without a proper understanding of the role of comorbid substance use disorders.