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Illegal Drug Use On The Rise For Middle Aged Adults

Brenda Munnerlyn, RN, BSN

Medically reviewed by

Brenda Munnerlyn, RN, BSN

March 11, 2019

Drug abuse among middle-aged individuals has been increasing over the past several years. This is due to a variety of reasons that are often unique to each individual. Knowing how susceptible someone is to drug abuse may help save their life.

While drug abuse can happen to anyone (regardless of age), illegal drug use has been on the rise for middle-aged adults. In a recent Home Office report, middle-aged parents are increasingly using cannabis while their children are doing away with the drug altogether. The report also found that greater than half a million people 40 to 59 years old took drugs within the past year, and 400,000 of those smoked cannabis while 92,000 used cocaine. This recent study was conducted in England and Wales. This study also noted that 279,000 adults used a new psychoactive drug since last year.

Part of the reason why this age group has increased drug abuse could be that this generation continues their drug abuse from their youth. Many people who are middle-aged now grew up in the 60s and 70s where drugs were used prevalently. Drug abuse may have been considered “normal” at this time. This is the “rave” generation that might have stopped drug abuse for a time, but many have picked the habit up again, or simply never stopped.

In the United States, Baby Boomers who also grew up during this time are also turning back to or continuing their drug abuse. When Baby Boomers were young, their drug abuse was the highest of any generation to date. Habits are hard to break, regardless of age. And the increase in drug abuse has also led to overdose deaths. In 2013 alone 12,000 Baby Boomers died due to an accidental drug overdose.

Still The Same Person, Just Older

While you may see gray hair and a middle-aged person standing in front of you, they could still be young at heart. Many Baby Boomers are growing old, but they might have kept their drug addiction that started in their youth and brought it to the present.

Experts note that there might be two factors to the rise of drug abuse in those who are middle-aged and it is this: a generation that grew up and used mind-altering substances mixed with the current era of opioid painkiller abuse. Painkillers are second only to marijuana for Baby Boomer’s most preferred method of getting high as reported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Abuse of painkillers is the drug that is associated the most with overdoses, followed by anti-anxiety medications, heroin, and cocaine.

And with a trend to legalize marijuana across the United States, this might also be a reason why drug use for middle-aged adults is on the rise. If a drug once considered illegal is now legalized, this might make drug abusers legitimize their misuse, creating an even more devastating spiral of addiction and abuse.

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The Woodstock State Of Mind

Some Baby Boomers and middle-aged adults never stopped abusing illegal drugs. Some stopped their drug use for a time (focusing on their jobs, starting a family, or having other priorities). However, if a middle-aged adult is triggered (a family member dies, they are fearful of retirement, they get injured and start taking pain medications), they may revert back to their youth: the time they abused drugs. They may enter a “Woodstock state of mind” (if they were the type to party and abuse drugs), and the human brain does not forget that. The younger versions of the middle-aged adults were used to being rebellious and they turned to drugs, a habit that could be triggered in the present. The body may be older, but the brain never forgets.

How Can I Help?

If your grandparent (a Baby Boomer) or even your middle-aged parent is abusing drugs, you might feel awkward as the “child or grandchild” to confront them about it, even if you yourself are now an adult. You might feel it is not your place to tell your parent or grandparent that they need to seek help. It might be rough, but you need to seek help for them before it’s too late. If your loved one is still abusing drugs, their body is older and they can’t process drugs like their younger bodies used to. There is even more of increased risk due to abusing drugs in their middle-aged years. Here are some things you can do to get your loved one the help they need:

  • Watch for signs. If a recent death, retirement, or illness or other reason has caused them to turn back to abusing drugs, approach the subject lightly. Never accuse your loved one of being an addict, but explain that you are concerned with their behaviors or emotions. Be ready to give examples of what makes you concerned if they get defensive. Addictions can kill and it’s not something to ignore. Seek help for them now.
  • Talk with your loved one and tell them they need to seek professional help. Start looking at rehab facilities, outpatient programs, and online resources (there are tons of sites online that you can call or chat with representatives about addiction help and what to do). Seek a doctor’s or therapist’s opinion (or seek the advice of a rehab site’s staff), if you are unsure of what treatment option is best for your loved one.

Don’t waste time. The addiction needs to be addressed immediately and by professionals before it’s too late.

Contact Us Right Now

If your loved one is abusing drugs, they need to seek professional help now. Contact us at if you have questions or want to learn more about rehab facilities or treatment options.

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