Baby Boomers and the Rise of Drug Use Among Older Adults

Is being middle aged a risk factor for drug use? We didn’t think so, until now. A recent article in The Wall Street Journal looked at the increase in drug abuse, drug-related arrests and overdoses among older adults. Why are we seeing this trend? Well, it appears that as Baby Boomers are moving into later middle age, they are bringing their habits with them. For many Boomers, growing up in the turbulent 60s was synonymous with substance use (and lots of it), and many still identify with that phase in their lives.

While there are several reasons aging could trigger drug use, one reason is immediately clear: aging can be physically painful. With age comes ailing bodies. With ailing bodies often come surgeries, pain, sickness and ill-health. Understandably, the ailments of age are often readily met with pain meds, particularly opiates and marijuana. The ease of access to meds, coupled with the pain of aging certainly explains the increase of drug use amongst this population.

But it doesn’t explain why we’re seeing an increase in drug abuse among this generation compared to generations past. This is where the familiar experience of earlier drug use comes in. Someone’s early days of regular “chemical visits to paradise” would easily be recalled. As one Boomer profiled in The Wall Street Journal article concluded: “We know how to get high; we know the sensation. In a broad sense, once you’ve been there, it’s easier to get back into it.”

This article reminds us of all the factors we need to consider in assessing and individualizing treatment for substance problems, including age and generational risk factors. You may be older but your substance problem days may still return!

If you subscribe to The Wall Street Journal, visit their website to read Zusha Elinson’s full article: “Aging Baby Boomers Bring Drug Habits into Middle Age.” If you do not subscribe to The WSJ, you can access the full post on their Facebook page (posted March 15, 2015 7:45pm).

Practical Recovery has extensive experience treating older adults with substance abuse issues. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, call us. We can help!