Drug Abuse on the Rise Among Baby Boomers

The Baby Boomers were the first generation in history to embrace widespread drug abuse.

Now they are proving the drug use is not limited to the young.  According to new research, drug abuse among adults aged 50 and older is on the rise.  Between the years 1992 and 2008, admission for drug addiction treatment for people in this age group nearly doubled.

Baby Boomers Have Open Minds about Drugs

Research data reported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services indicates that alcohol is still the leading cause of hospital admission for Baby Boomers, but this age group (born between the years 1946 and 1964) is also abusing marijuana, cocaine, heroin and prescription drugs in increasing numbers.  The report included these facts:

  • Hospital admissions due to alcohol abuse for people ages 50 and older decreased from 85% to 60% between 1992 and 2008.
  • Admissions for cocaine abuse increased nearly fourfold, from 3% to 11%.
  • Admissions for heroin abuse doubled, from 7% to 16%.
  • Marijuana abuse treatment rose from 0.6% to 3%.
  • Prescription drug abuse went from 0.7% to 3.5% of admissions.  This includes the drugs oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone, among other drugs.
  • Most notably, the number of older Americans seeking treatment for the abuse of multiple substances went from 14% to 40%.

According to Kathy Greenlee, Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Aging, as the Baby Boomer generation ages, “a critical aspect of senior health is the ability to be free of alcohol and drug addiction.”  Since Baby Boomers came of age at a time when recreational drug abuse was widespread, many view it as an essential part of their lifestyle and have difficulty in admitting that their use of drugs is a problem.  Adding to the problem is the fact that many of the problems associated with aging, including retirement, finances, health issues and the death of friends and spouses, can cause older people to increase their use of drugs.

Many of the Baby Boomer drug abusers have not picked up their habit recently, but have been using illicit drugs for decades.  As they become seniors, the chance of experiencing health problems as a result of years of drug abuse increases.  There is also a greater chance of injury from falls and other accidents when older people are impaired by drugs.  Confusion from drug interactions can be misdiagnosed as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.  An additional concern is the risk of interactions between illicit substances and prescribed medications.  These interactions are often life-threatening.

Many treatment facilities are unprepared for an influx of older abusers.  Projections indicate that the number of drug treatment facilities will need to double by 2020 to handle the surge in senior abusers.  The treatment of drug abuse by the Woodstock generation is likely to put additional strains on a national health care system that is already in crisis.

Recovery is fueled by hope and courage and an exploration of the underlying factors such as trauma. Our treatment driven by compassionate and trauma-informed care provides the foundation of recovery and healing.

– Valerie M. Kading, DNP, MBA, MSN, PMHNP-BC, Chief Executive Officer
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