Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Among Seniors Could Triple by 2020

The baby boom generation, those born in the tidal wave of U.S. childbirths which occurred between 1944-1964, is beginning to enter the golden years. Older boomers are hitting retirement age with large numbers following just behind them. Some predict that the baby boom generation could soon present health and mental health care providers with needs that stress the system. Rather than aging with the accrued wisdom of years to benefit the Gen Xers, addiction specialists worry that the boomers may rebel against aging by engaging in addictive behaviors.

As they enter their 60s and beyond, boomers will be dealing with some of the same difficulties that every generation must eventually face, including loss of career, loss of parent(s) and declining health. Add to that list the financial strains of a weakened economy which may result in less personal financial security, the need to prolong financial involvement with their children and possibly more home care for even older parents. Mental health professionals warn that the stressors of aging which can lead to depression and anxiety disorders are about to occur on an unprecedented scale.

Mental health experts predict surges in addictive behaviors such as substance abuse and compulsive gambling and are calling for treatment strategies and perhaps more treatment centers. One concern is that the generation with a friendly attitude toward marijuana use may revert to using the substance when things start to feel bleak. Mental health providers worry that boomers do not realize that marijuana has increased in potency since the days of flower children, and increased potency increases other serious psychological, cognitive and respiratory risks. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health says that there has been a 3 percent increase in the rate of illegal drug use among seniors during the last eight years.

Alcohol remains the most abused substance among U.S. seniors. The number of American seniors who suffer with alcohol dependency is probably in the millions today. Some statistics report that 14 percent of all hip fractures in the over-60 population occur as a direct result of combining alcohol with prescription medications. Experts say the 3 million estimated to be addicted to substances today could triple by the year 2020.

Mental health providers would do well to “get to know their patient.” Boomers about to encounter the numerous stressors associated with aging are folks who expect quick fixes, have fewer inhibitions when it comes to prescription medications than their parents had, and tend to be spiritual. Treatment strategies should take these “profile” factors into consideration when dealing with patients in the demographic.

The size of the baby boom generation has impacted U.S. life and culture all along. As the boomer generation ages, it will influence the country in new ways – ways that reflect this new stage of life. The effects on health and mental health care will be significant. Many are suggesting that mental health care providers be prepared for what may lie ahead. Let’s hope that just like bottles of water purchased before a storm, the precautions prove not as necessary as feared. Meanwhile, better to follow the adage which warns “better safe than sorry.”