Baby Boomers Abusing Drugs More Than Teens

While most people typically associate drug abuse and addiction, the rate of abuse among baby boomers is quite alarming. Baby boomers were born during a time where drugs were a cultural norm and the risks were not well know. This type of behavior left many individuals addicted to drugs and still in need of treatment.

While much media attention is on youth using drugs and alcohol, the number of “baby boomers” addicted to drugs has skyrocketed at alarming levels. One report shows deaths in the 45 to 65 year age group rose 11 times over in the decades-spanning 1990 to 2010. Baby boomers, or children born post-World War II, were a generation raised in an age of drug culture in America, in which LSD, marijuana, and heroin were used without concern for the long-term consequences. Drugs were a cultural norm until media attention began to report on the effects of the drug culture, and efforts to curb drug use were slowly enacted in the decades following.

During that time, drug use among aging populations was not of high concern. In 1979, only 11 percent of individuals over the age of 35 admitted to having abused drugs at some point in their lives. By 2001, that percentage nearly quadrupled to 38.5 percent and has continued to climb.

However, early exposure to drug culture is only one factor in the increased incidence of drug use among the aging baby boomer generation. Prescription drug availability has also climbed, and some studies suggest that a disproportionate number of individuals over the age of 45 are being prescribed addictive medications like benzodiazepines and opioid pain medications over their younger counterparts.

To complicate matters, the attitudes of family members or a lack of regular communication with family can result in a lack of pursuance of treatment for drug dependency among the baby boomer generation. These attitudes also serve as one barrier in access to treatment for or diagnosis with a substance use disorder.

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What The Data Suggests About Baby Boomers And Drug Use

Along with the population boom (it is anticipated the number of individuals over 65 will climb to 80 million, more than doubling the population of this age group since 1990), life expectancy is also increasing. This is normally good news, but with a larger group of previously drug-exposed individuals, so increases the number of individuals affected by drug or alcohol abuse.

More research is needed as this demographic continues to shift, but what is known is that a number of factors contribute to higher rates of drug use among the baby boomer population. These factors include

  • attitudes about age
  • lack of awareness of the differences between symptoms of drug addiction and dependency
  • age-related changes
  • economic and social factors as more people in this age category are living alone, are uninsured, and are more likely to suffer from a disability
  • aging populations tend to experience an increase in chronic pain associated with aging
  • they are prescribed a higher number of addictive substances including benzodiazepines and sedatives
  • encounter more barriers than younger generations in gaining access to treatment for drug or alcohol addiction

Additionally, this specific generation was more likely to have used or abused drugs in their younger years than the previous generation.

Risk Factors For Baby Boomers And Addiction

  • Attitudes by family and physicians about aging populations and drug addiction
  • Economic disadvantage
  • Social isolation
  • Increased prescription drug use
  • Increased incidence of chronic pain
  • Barriers to treatment
  • Early drug exposure

How Attitudes Affect Addiction Risk

In some cases, as a family member ages, other members of the family assume the behaviors that would otherwise indicate a substance use disorder, are simply a matter of aging. Sadly, even in cases where the drug or alcohol problem is evident, the attitude that “a person at this age can never change” or “that’s just grandpa” can further reduce the likelihood of someone suffering from an addiction to drugs or alcohol of gaining access to the treatment they need.

Prescriptions For Addiction

Access to prescription drugs, little to no monitoring is another factor in the increased risk of addiction among baby boomers. Attitudes about drugs are also different from the generation before. The baby boomer generation grew up in America’s drug culture of the 1960s and 70s and may feel more in control of their medications or ability to self-medicate.

Benzodiazepines and sedatives are prescribed at far higher rates to older populations. One study indicated nearly a quarter of prescriptions among this age demographic are benzodiazepines. With poor medical monitoring of the use of these medications and where other risk factors exist, addiction can easily result.

Physical And Emotional Pain And Addiction

Baby boomers who have previously been surrounded by children and a spouse are facing an empty household and in some cases the loss of a spouse. Social isolation may result in these dynamics shift. The number of baby boomers who are unmarried or who live alone is growing.

Today, more than 33 percent are in the unmarried category. This tends to put baby boomers in a higher risk category for addiction as this same subgroup is both twice as likely to have a disability as their married counterparts, and more likely to be uninsured. Chronic pain is also more common in an aging population, regardless of marital status, though is underdiagnosed or less likely to be treated in the unmarried baby boomer population.

The pain of any injury relating to the disability as well as depression, anxiety, or insomnia resulting from isolation can lead to the use of drugs and especially alcohol to numb the pain. What may begin as a simple attempt to get some rest, can quickly spiral into problem drinking or physical dependence on prescribed or illicit drugs.

Addiction Treatment For Baby Boomers

While many barriers exist for aging populations in gaining access to drug treatment, many of the barriers are in attitudes about addiction. The good news is that compassionate and evidence-based care is available to meet the needs of our baby boomer generation. is your online resource for the treatment styles, professional support, and evidence-based care you deserve. Take back your life by contacting us and discover a new and rewarding path beginning today.

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