Substance Abuse Among Baby Boomers

Addiction Among Baby Boomers

Addiction Substance Abuse In Baby Boomers
Boomers are up to 27 percent more likely to die of a prescription opioid drug overdose compared to people born in the late 1970s, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health

Substance abuse is a growing issue across all demographics in the US, and Baby Boomers are no exception.

To put the size of this problem into context, just under one in five Americans abuse alcohol or prescription drugs today, and Boomers are up to 27 percent more likely to die of a prescription opioid drug overdose compared to people born in the late 1970s, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

You may be surprised to hear that Baby Boomers abuse drugs just like younger generations – as the first thing you imagine when someone mentions drug or alcohol abuse isn’t someone in their 50s or 60s – but as we’ll discuss later in this article, there are a significant number of factors which are driving the increase in substance abuse among Baby Boomers.

What Types of Substance Abuse Are Most Prevalent Among Boomers?

At the moment, the most widely abused substances among Boomers are marijuana, alcohol, heroin and some prescription drugs, especially opioids like OxyContin and Codeine.

These substances are also the most abused drugs among younger generations, though there are some slight differences in how widely each one is abused from generation to generation.

What’s Driving This Increase?

There are many factors that are responsible for the increasingly high number of Baby Boomers who are currently suffering from substance abuse. Some of these factors affect all types of substance abuse, while others are responsible for the increased abuse of one particular drug or substance.

For instance, with the US having an aging population and many Baby Boomers suffering from conditions that lead to chronic pain, many Boomers are given prescription opioid drugs – and this in turn is at least partly responsible for the growing abuse of prescription opioid drugs among this demographic.

Other countries, both in the developed and developing world, are suffering from the same problem, but the US by far consumes the most painkillers every year.

Another reason for Baby Boomers’ substance abuse is simply the time they grew up in and their mindset. Boomers were adolescents and teens in the 1960s and 1970s, a time when views on taking drugs for recreational purposes were far more relaxed than they are now (in the US at least), so it’s perhaps not surprising that some Boomers are more willing to experiment with drugs and abuse other substances than some younger Americans.

Finally, the difficulties of aging may also be responsible for this trend, with many Boomers suffering from loneliness, anxiety, and depression – often without even knowing it as they haven’t been formally diagnosed by a medical professional.

There are many reasons that are responsible for Baby Boomers suffering from the aforementioned conditions. For instance, not having many friends or rarely seeing their family can make them feel lonely, and having too much free time in retirement can lead to some seniors feeling like they no longer have a purpose in life, leading to depression.

Why Substance Abuse is Especially Dangerous For Baby Boomers

Baby Boomers who abuse substances are at a much greater risk of overdosing and dying than younger Americans, simply due to the fact that their bodies are not as well equipped to survive such an ordeal as they may be suffering from chronic health conditions which can make them weaker.

Even if the addiction doesn’t lead to an overdose, Boomers are still at a greater health risk when abusing substances, as their bodies process and break down drugs more slowly. This means that the same dose or quantity of a certain drug is more potent for a Boomer than it is for someone who’s younger. 

Barriers to Getting Help and Treatment

There are obstacles to getting help and treatment for anyone suffering from substance abuse – regardless of whether it’s a marijuana, alcohol or prescription drug addiction – but there are additional barriers in the way of Baby Boomers when trying to get treated.

First and foremost, many Boomers simply never get diagnosed. This can be the case for several reasons. For example, their symptoms or behavior may be attributed to another condition that is prevalent among their age group, leading to a misdiagnosis by doctors. Or, they may not have close family members around who would notice their addiction and support them when they go in to see a doctor.

Another issue is the fact that some Boomers aren’t as concerned about substance abuse as younger Americans, so even if they are aware that there might be a problem, they are less likely to seek help. The reason why they aren’t concerned about substance abuse is that they grew up in a period of history when drug use was practically encouraged and was very common.

Finally, another common reason Baby Boomers avoid seeking treatment is that they are ashamed or embarrassed to admit to the problem or to ask for help dealing with their addiction. The fact that Boomers typically have other health conditions to worry about can be another obstacle and something that dissuades them from getting treatment or even taking substance abuse more seriously.

Final Thoughts

Substance abuse is an issue for all generations, but there are additional challenges for Baby Boomers, especially when it comes to getting treatment. However, despite these extra barriers, it still is possible for Boomers to get successfully treated for addiction – and as with all other health conditions, the sooner you start treating it, the better your chances of success are.

Perhaps the most important aspect of helping Boomers treat substance abuse is getting them to truly understand and believe the risks of addiction and to no longer consider it something trivial.

This is easier said than done, but it’s far from impossible and there are many successful cases of Boomers being treated for all types of it addiction, even after going for many years without any treatment.

A Quick Summary

  • Substance abuse is a growing problem in the United States, and there are many additional challenges and risks when it comes to Baby Boomers.
  • Boomers are at a much greater risk of dying from an overdose than a younger American, due to their bodies typically being weaker and them suffering from other conditions which may leave them more vulnerable.
  • Furthermore, as we get older, our body processes and breaks down drugs more slowly, so the same dose or quantity effectively becomes more potent as we age.
  • The most widely abused substances among Baby Boomers are heroin, marijuana, alcohol, and prescription drugs, especially opioids such as OxyContin and Codeine.
  • There are many reasons why Baby Boomers are increasingly abusing such substances, including depression, loneliness and anxiety, and the fact that Boomers generally have more relaxed views on recreational drug consumption due to the period they grew up in.
  • There are many additional obstacles in the path of Baby Boomers when it comes to getting treatment for substance abuse.
  • For instance, their relaxed views on taking certain drugs recreationally means that they are less likely to actively seek out treatment or discuss their issues with a loved one.
  • Other reasons include misdiagnosis and Boomers not living with a loved one who’s in a position to figure out that something is wrong and encourage them to get the help they need. 
Alice Goldstein
A Licensed Professional Counselor and Life Coach for over 25 years, Alice has written on a wide range of topics, touching on issues that matter most to seniors. Check out her article “Tips for Successful Marriages for Couples over 70” - a popular post on Marriage.com where Alice is an “Expert” author. Learn more about Alice Goldstein