Alcohol and substance use disorder (SUD)

Carelon Behavioral Health is committed to the early identification and treatment of alcohol and other drug use disorders to promote optimal health. To help with that goal, we want to work with you to identify all members with alcohol and other drug disorders and to increase the number of those members identified to get access to the SUD services they need.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) showed that 40.3 million Americans, aged 12 or older, had an SUD in the past year. Nearly 1 million overdose deaths were reported from March 2020 to March 2021, an increase of over 36% from the previous annual high.

Opioids are the most common drug found in overdose deaths at 72%, followed by cocaine and psychostimulants.1 According to the CDC’s Understanding the Opioid Overdose Epidemic, an average of 128 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.

Additionally, more than 140,000 Americans die annually from the effects of alcohol. Ten percent of Americans over the age of 12 have an alcohol use disorder and 60% of Americans reported increasing their use of alcohol during COVID-19 lockdowns. While younger people with alcohol-related deaths are more likely to have acute causes (such as automobile accidents), older Americans who die from excessive alcohol use typically die from chronic conditions.2

Some populations are at a higher risk for alcohol and SUD, including:

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, LGBTQ+ people are at increased risk for various behavioral health issues as a result of stress from harassment and violence.

The 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that over 34% of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) adults had an SUD. Additionally, alcohol use disorder was diagnosed in 24% of LGB adults age 18 to 25 and 21% in LGB adults 26 or older.

Resources for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) can be found on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website.

Substance use may be a mechanism to deal with major life changes, such as grief and loss, retirement, and declining health. Since the symptoms of an SUD can be confused with chronic health conditions and life-changing events, SUDs might be harder to identify in this age group.

Among older adults, alcohol is the most common drug used, with approximately 65% of people 65 and older reporting high-risk drinking.3

Opioid use has increased in older adults, particularly those with chronic pain, which has led to more older Americans seeking treatment for opioid use disorder. Another area of concern for older patients is polypharmacy, which can increase the risk for harmful drug reactions and expose individuals to potentially addictive medications.4

Prescribers should be aware that patients with a history of substance abuse or other psychiatric problems are at high risk of harm from taking multiple medications. All medications should be reviewed on a regular basis, including over-the-counter medications and medications prescribed by other providers.5

A recent poll found that nearly half of rural adults know someone who is or has been addicted to prescription painkillers.6

As a result of the ongoing opioid crisis in rural areas, the following resources are available through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA):

Opioid Misuse in Rural America | USDA 

Rural Community Toolbox: Funding & Tools to Build Healthy Drug-Free Communities 

Alcohol and substance use disorder resources

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Whether you have a question or are interested in learning more about how we can best support you, please call our National Provider Services Line at 800-397-1630, Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern time.

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1 National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics: Drug Overdose Death Rates (accessed December 2022):
2 National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics: Alcohol Abuse Statistics (accessed December 2022):
3 National Institute on Drug Abuse: Substance Use in Older Adults DrugFacts (accessed December 2022):
4 West Virginia University School of Public Health: Too Many Prescription Drugs Can Be Dangerous, Especially for Oder Adults (accessed December 2022):
5 West Virginia University School of Public Health: Too Many Prescription Drugs Can Be Dangerous, Especially for Oder Adults (accessed December 2022):
6 National Farmers Union: National Poll Reveals Promising Trends in Rural Opioid Misuse; More Work Needed (accessed December 2022):
7 Today, we are Carelon Behavioral Health, but when we created these materials, we were Beacon Health Options.
8 Maldonado et al, Prospective Validation Study of the Prediction of Alcohol Withdrawal Severity Scale (PAWSS) in Medically Ill Inpatients: A New Scale for the Prediction of Complicated Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome, 2015 by Maldonado, Carelon Behavioral Health is authorized to post as a clinical and/or research resource.