Substance Abuse on the Rise Among Baby Boomers

The need for substance abuse treatment services for older Americans is expected to double by 2020, according to experts at The Hanley Center, a Caron Treatment Center.

The prediction comes on the heels of a recent study sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) showing that the rate of illicit drug use among 50 to 59 year-olds has increased 3.1 percent in the past eight years. Hanley, a nationally recognized non-profit provider of alcohol and drug addiction treatment, asserts that this increase in substance abuse among Baby Boomers poses many challenges for individuals, families and society.

“As Baby Boomers enter a transitional stage in their lives, new stressors, such as financial strain, grieving the loss of a parent or age-related health issues, make them more prone to depression and anxiety,” said Dr. Barbara Krantz, CEO of Hanley Center, a Florida drug and alcohol treatment and recovery center set to be acquired by Caron Treatment Centers in Fall 2011.

“As a generation that grew up in a time when recreational drug use was commonly accepted, Boomers are reverting to substance abuse as a way to cope with stress and change.”

Hanley has outlined key contributing factors to the growing incidence of substance abuse among Baby Boomers, along with some areas to consider in treatment:

  • Understanding the characteristics and behavioral patterns of Baby Boomers. When customizing a treatment program for Baby Boomer patients, it’s essential to understand the common personality traits and behavioral patterns among this age group, such as a tendency to be extremely career-oriented or to look for a “quick fix”.
  • Considering “stage of life” issues. Baby Boomers are currently entering a unique stage of life that is filled with change and added stress. Whether it’s adjusting to retired life or having to support both kids and elderly parents, they require mechanisms for dealing with these transitions.
  • Overcoming barriers to detection. As Baby Boomers enter older adulthood, they are prescribed more medications, making it increasingly problematic to identify prescription drug abuse. In addition, Boomers are more accepting of prescription drug use and often view it as a necessary part of life.
  • Focusing on spirituality. While this generation represents a wide variety of religious and philosophical beliefs, overall they tend to have an aspect of spirituality in their lives.  As a result, spiritual components of treatment can be highly effective.
  • Increasing awareness about the repercussions of substance abuse. Although substance abuse among any age group can be life threatening, there are significantly more health risks involved for older adults who abuse drugs when combined with existing complex disorders associated with aging.


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