Known for experimenting with illegal drugs during the 1960s and 1970s, it seems today’s Baby Boomers are using and abusing drugs at the highest rates of all generations. You read that correctly; Baby Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, are now surpassing teens and younger generations in the areas of drug addiction and drug abuse. What is the reason behind this? One theory, shares The Wall Street Journal, points to these adults dealing with challenges related to aging and health and turning to drugs to help them cope. According to the federal government’s annual survey on drug use, rates of illicit drug use have increased over the past decade for Baby Boomers, while this number has declined for teenagers. In addition, this survey shared that an alarming number of older adults are being admitted to hospitals for drug-related health issues. In fact, in 2012, the most inpatient hospital stays for opioid abuse belonged to men and women between the ages of 45 and 64. In the 1990s, this number belonged to those aged 25 and 44.
Sadly, with this alarming increase in drug use and abuse by Baby Boomers, comes higher rates of overdose deaths. According to recent statistics, the death rate of accidental overdoses increased 11-fold for people aged 45 to 64 during 1990 and 2010. Another shocking statistic was just released through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2013 mortality data. This data revealed that more Baby Boomers died from an accidental drug overdose than from the flu, pneumonia and car accidents. In fact, over 12,000 men and women from this generation lost their lives in 2013 because of an accidental drug overdose. Now, for the first time ever, older adults accidental overdose death rates are in the top spot over any other generation.
In order to help this generation of drug addicts, the studies explain it is important to understand what types of drugs are being used and why they are being used. According to The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, marijuana is the top drug of choice among Baby Boomers. Next are pain medications and anti-anxiety drugs. Heroin and crack are also quite popular. In fact, more than 1/3 of hospital admissions for drug use among Baby Boomers between 1997 and 2012 was because of heroin, and crack was responsible for over 20 percent of admissions.
While many of us have an image of older adults not being at risk for drug addiction and abuse, this is the generation that used drugs during the 60s and 70s at alarming rates. It is theorized that many are bringing their habits into middle and older age. According to The Wall Street Journal’s recent interview of over a dozen Baby Boomer drug users, many had continued using drugs their entire lives, while other has slowed down but picked up the habit again later in life after experiencing a divorce, job loss, or death in the family.
As the numbers of addicted Baby Boomers continues to grow, the government estimates almost 6 million men and women over the age of 50 will require some form of substance abuse treatment by the year 2020. With this new generation of drug abusers and addicts, drug rehabilitation centers and clinics are adjusting their services and methodologies, realizing that addiction in this age group comes with its own set of unique challenges. By incorporating therapy sessions designed for older adults and using non-addictive painkillers and acupuncture to treat pain, combined with classes that teach the science of addition, many men and women are experiencing successful recoveries.