Baby Boomers and Senior Substance Abuse Addiction
Anyone born between 1946 and 1964 in the United States is part of the Baby Boomer generation. In fact, “Boomers” are the largest segment of the population, with more than 75 million of them. As of January 2011, approximately 10,000 people started turning 65 every day, and this trend will continue until 2020.
A disturbing fact, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is that 3 million American seniors are struggling with addiction issues related to alcohol and drugs. In 2011, one study reported that drug abuse among baby boomers aged 50 to 59 increased by 3 percent.
Even more alarming, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says that hospital admissions for alcohol-related problems equal the number of admissions for heart attacks for Americans in this age range.
Why Do Seniors Struggle with Substance Abuse Addiction?
While there is no clear reason for the statistics about senior drug abuse, experts believe there are several contributing factors.
- Declining health
- Financial strain in retirement
- Job loss due to the financial crisis
- Grieving the deaths of aging friends and family members
“As baby boomers enter a transitional stage in their lives,” said Dr. Barbara Krantz, “new stressors…make them more prone to depression and anxiety.”
In many ways, boomers are a unique generation. They have more money, are better educated and will live longer than the generations that came before them. Those that are 55 and older control three-fourths of American wealth. A 2012 study showed that the average baby-boomer spends 27 hours per week online. This is two hours more than younger generations who grew up with the Internet.
This is no surprise considering baby boomers are the first generation to grow up with television, are technically savvy and have brought advertising and marketing into the modern age. As they age, they are increasingly bombarded with ads by doctors and pharmaceutical companies. It’s important to note, too, that during their lives recreational drug use became more acceptable. This might make them the perfect consumers for drug companies.
Dr. Louis Trevisan of the Yale University School of Medicine said, “As the baby boomers move into the geriatric age range, they are going to be more amenable to taking drugs to alleviate pain than their parents were.”
American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry (AAAP) reported that 20 percent of individuals 65 or older use painkillers several times a week. Additionally, the AAAP reported that hydrocodone, methadone, and oxycodone were involved in nearly 40 percent of opiate related deaths in this age group.
Opioid-based medications are extremely powerful. As with alcohol, long-term use can result in addiction and serious health risks. Abusing these substances can mask or worsen symptoms related to mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder.
Benzodiazepines, or sleeping pills and tranquilizers, are even more problematic for seniors than opiates. Drugs like Valium and Xanax are sometimes prescribed for depression or trouble sleeping caused by grief following the death of a loved one. While the prescriptions help ease the symptoms, they often times become dependent on them. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), prescription drug misuse has increased in the past few years, and the senior age group is troubling.
It’s worth noting that addiction issues often go undiagnosed and untreated in this generation because healthcare professionals are less likely to be on the look out for it in their older patients.
However, as the prevalence of drug abuse and alcoholism rise in the baby boomer population, physicians and nurses are learning to be just as vigilant about addiction issues with this group as they are with the younger generations.
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