One of the oldest myths about substance abuse is that the baby boomer generation (those born between the years 1946 and 1964) is no more prone to addiction than younger or older generations. The fact is, people within this age range are entering emergency rooms for drug abuse at higher rates than the GI generation, the mature/silent generation, generation X, and millennials.
At The Treatment Center, we’ve seen people struggle with addiction at all ages, and, unfortunately, baby boomers are no exception; research suggests they are even at a higher risk. Here are some facts about the baby boomer generation and addiction.
Figures and Statistics Around the Nation
According to a report by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), about 5% of all baby boomers (about 4.3 million adults) currently use illegal drugs. The rate of illicit drug use among people in their 50s increased from 2.7% to 6.3% in just nine years and doubled from 3.4% in 2002 to 7.2% in 2012.
Statistics show that baby boomers are most likely to abuse alcohol, followed by marijuana, prescription drugs, and cocaine. Studies show that about 10% of all baby boomers use prescription drugs non-medically. In this age group, women far outnumber men (44% versus 23.4%) in terms of prescription painkiller addiction.
Studies project that the number of people 50 years and older with a substance use disorder will reach 5.7 million by 2020. This is more than double the statistics for the year 2002 (2.8 million). Factors contributing to this projected increase include population growth (the number of adults age 65 and older is estimated to increase from 40 million in 2010 to 73 million by 2030), lack of awareness of substance abuse problems in the older generation, and addictions beginning at an earlier age and continuing into adulthood.
Reasons for the Age-Group Disparity
As statistics continue to show that the baby boomer generation does, in fact, appear to be more prone to addiction than other generations, researchers strive to discover exactly why. Studies have found that anything from cognitive impairment to antisocial behaviors contributes to older adults’ substance abuse problems. Here are a few data-backed answers to the question of why baby boomers may be more likely to struggle with addiction:
Old Habits Die Hard
According to the SAMHSA report, nearly three-fourths of all baby boomers in addiction treatment programs began their addictions before the age of 25. Woodstock, the famous gathering of half a million young people, happened in 1969. This three-day-long music festival was infamous for rampant drug use and became a symbol of the counterculture movement throughout America. In many ways, Woodstock defines the older generation of today. Many people now in their 50s and 60s lived through this era and began their addictions early on. They have simply carried their addictions through the years, never seeking treatment.
Age-Related Health Problems
Baby boomers are now reaching the retirement age. The natural process of aging leads to myriad health issues, such as chronic pain and impaired mobility. Many begin to rely more heavily on substances they may have only experimented with in the past, including prescription painkillers and/or alcohol. Lots of baby boomers (and people in other generations, for that matter) do not fully realize the high risk of addiction with prescription drugs and take them without inhibitions. Many older adults take a wide range of prescription pills and over-the-counter medications, sometimes combined with alcohol. Depending on multiple drugs to control pain can lead to developing a tolerance, and eventually addiction.
Entering retirement means giving up a way of life you’ve grown accustomed to. You may be giving up a career you love, and you aren’t sure what to do with your extra time. Many older adults in this stage in life downsize to a different home, leaving behind familiar settings, friends, and neighbors. In some cases, you may have to go through the death of old friends and family members. In this period of change and loss, many people find it difficult to cope. They may turn to drugs and alcohol to help them deal with these problems, engaging in an old habit or starting a new one. Social isolation, psychological pain, and medical illnesses can all combine to increase the risk of substance abuse.
Lack of Awareness
A common factor contributing to addiction in every generation is a lack of awareness of the dangers of drug abuse. Too many people do not realize that substances such as prescription drugs can be addictive. Others believe addiction is a state of mind or something that only affects people who are morally weak. These misconceptions are dangerous and often lead to addiction creeping up on unsuspecting individuals. The more you learn about addiction, the better are your chances of preventing it.
Lack of Support
Many baby boomer adults may not be aware of the abundance of treatment, detox, and rehab options available to them that address their specific needs. With aging can come feelings of being invisible and alienated, especially when combined with an addiction. The right support group can remedy these feelings and open up the path to long-term recovery.
Find Treatment for All Ages at The Treatment Center
If you or someone you know is struggling with drug or alcohol dependency, know that it is never too late to seek addiction treatment. Addiction does not discriminate by age. Whether you’re new to the struggle against addiction or you’ve been battling substance abuse for years, come to The Treatment Center for effective care and treatment. We offer customized rehabilitation programs to fit your needs and lifestyle. Our programs tackle the source of our clients’ addictions, opening the door to lifelong recovery. Reach out to our team of caring professionals today for more information about addiction treatment for people in the baby boomer generation.
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