Some would say there has never been a generation like the baby boomers, before or after. Born between 1946 and 1964, the boomer generation has always been about breaking the mold. They organized during the civil rights movement, protested the Vietnam War and attended a little three-day music festival known as Woodstock. However, baby boomers might be associated most for their drug use during the hippie movement.
With their freethinking attitudes and affinity for drugs, it’s not surprising that this generation consumed more illicit drugs in their youth than any other generation. Now that baby boomers are starting to retire and approach their later years, there are three myths surrounding this generation and their substance use.
Myth 1: Baby Boomers Left Their Drugs Behind in the 70s.
Which age group has increased their rate of illicit drug use? Teenagers? Young adults? The answer is baby boomers. According to a 2009 report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, drug use nearly doubled from 2002 to 2007 among adults ages 50 to 59. However, the rates of illicit drug use either remained unchanged or decreased among other age groups.
With the rise in the number of older adults who abuse drugs, treatment admissions are also following suit. In 2005, adults over 50 made up six percent of all admissions at rehab centers that received public funding. By 2020, it is expected that there will be 5.7 million adults over 50 struggling with a substance use disorder.
Myth 2: Baby Boomers Are Getting High for the Same Reasons as Teenagers.
While there is a portion of baby boomers who have never stopped abusing drugs in adulthood, many of them are turning to drugs, alcohol and prescription medications for different reasons than adolescents. Many teenagers often use drugs and alcohol for the sake of getting high or experimenting. On the other hand, some baby boomers are picking up their old habits or starting to use drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism.
Middle age has its share of challenges for baby boomers including dealing with retirement, divorce, an empty nest or the death of a spouse or a loved one. To deal with these life changes, baby boomers are turning to anti-anxiety meds like Ambien and Klonopin for relief. Others are abusing prescription medications like OxyContin to alleviate the aches and pains associated with a medical illness or an injury. The heavy reliance on prescription medications can quickly evolve from abuse to dependence.
Another thing to consider is that the body reacts differently to alcohol and drugs in a person’s 60s and 70s. Over time, the metabolism slows down making it more difficult for the body to process drugs and alcohol. This, in turn, causes the side effects to be harsher for older adults.
Myth 3: You Can Treat Baby Boomers for Addiction the Same Way You Do Young Adults.
Treating baby boomers for addiction comes with its own set of difficulties. Baby boomers are more likely to have other health issues such as heart disease, diabetes and other chronic diseases. When creating a comprehensive treatment plan, clinicians need to take in account these medical conditions and the medications that are used for treatment to prevent adverse effects.
As it was previously mentioned, baby boomers are facing different life issues, both physically and emotionally, than 20- and 30-somethings, such as deteriorating health and caring for aging parents. That’s why it is necessary for boomers to receive age-appropriate addiction treatment. These topics need to be addressed during therapy and aftercare planning.
A Crisis on the Horizon?
We need to dispel the myths about older adults and addiction. As a nation, we can’t turn a blind eye to this situation. Drug and alcohol addiction is impacting the boomer generation on all levels.
For starters, many baby boomers aren’t receiving addiction treatment until something dramatic happens, such as a DUI. From 1997 to 2012, drug-related arrests decreased for every age group except for adults 45-64.
Unfortunately, many boomers never receive the help they deserve. Over 12,000 baby boomers died from an accidental drug overdose in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Between 1990 and 2010, the number of fatalities from accidental overdoses has increased 11-fold among adults ages 45-64, the Wall Street Journal reports.
As boomers continue to age, many health officials are bracing themselves for a tidal wave of older adults needing addiction treatment. With this looming public health concern, it’s important to spread awareness about this demographic’s substance abuse problem and the need for tailored treatment.
It’s never too late for older adults to make major life changes, including the decision to quit drugs and alcohol.