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Perspectives: Baby Boomers and Addiction

In October of last year, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) released a study that showed an increased rate of illicit drug use among members of the baby boomer generation (ages 50 – 59) of 3.1. That’s not a huge percentage, but it is significant because, very soon, the baby boomer generation will become the biggest age demographic, and this particular scenario will bring new challenges to the substance abuse community. The 3.1 percent increase came in the span of only eight years (from 2003 – 2011) and points to a growing worry within the substance abuse industry on just how exactly we’ll deal with the increased numbers.

That study has led experts at The Hanley Center to predict that substance abuse treatments for older Americans is expected to double by 2020, in just another eight years.

The baby boomers present different criteria that drive them to addiction. They grew up in a time when recreational drug use was rampant – about 50% of them partook at the time – but as they grew up and matured, they laid that lifestyle to rest. Now, with age, new stressors have emerged in their life and these baby boomers are trending back towards drug abuse as a way to deal. Certain factors make the boomer situation unique. They’re dealing with widespread economic hardship, job loss, mortgage problems, that various psychological aspects of aging, and in many cases, the death of parents and/or friends. All these stressors combined are leading baby boomer substance abuse to become more and more common.  

From a treatment and addiction management standpoint this will pose a complex challenge. As an aging group, the boomers will require unique consideration in their stage of life, their ability to detox safely, and how they will come to terms with addiction in their own life. The older you are, the more difficult it is for the body to deal with addiction withdrawal. Simply getting baby boomers safely through detox and rehab will prove a huge challenge to the detox and rehab industries unto itself.

As a post-rehab, sober living environment, it is our job to offer support to people seeking a stable and sober live. Detox and rehab is one thing: making it stick is another. With older generations, their perspectives on life are different than younger ones, and the life that they are going back to – post rehab – may not cater to their newfound sobriety. Older baby boomers may not have the abundant support that younger people in recovery might get from their families and abundant network of friends. Their outlook, being an older group, is inherently different as well.

The majority of treatment, recovery, and post recovery paragons cater to adults and younger adults, focusing on organization and a diverse nexus of support and accountability for a return to a sober life. The 4Therapy blog has coined an appropriate term that we think will apply to how substance abuse organizations will work with the boomer generation: “cultural competence”. Understanding the inherent factors that make the baby boomer generation unique will be key in helping them through addiction. With baby boomers, there’s not yet a golden rule. As substance abuse rises among that generation, certain aspects of recovery and how the baby boomers deal with it will come to light and both detox centers and sober living environments will need to be able to adjust.



This post was provided by sober living experts at Hickory Wind Ranch, a sober living environment in Austin, TX specializing in post alcohol, drug, and prescription drug addiction.