While substance abuse is generally attributed to being a young person’s sport, researchers and those in the medical field are noticing rising numbers in baby boomers who are abusing drugs and/or alcohol.
A recent study conducted by medical journal Addiction found that “Americans over 50 with substance abuse problems are expected to reach 5.7 million by 2020, double the 2006 figure.”
The figures are expected to rise in part to the growing population of baby boomers. It may not necessarily be that senior citizens are abusing substances more frequently than in the past but that there is just a higher population of them, which in turn boosts statistical data.
Unlike young substance abusers that generally have parents or other elders to witness their behavior, senior citizens do not necessarily have the luxury of being looked after. If an individual’s children have moved off to different parts of the country then it is difficult to assess how they would ever find out about the individual’s affliction with substance abuse.
Furthermore, since the elderly are more likely to be on high doses of various pharmaceuticals, there is always the possibility that overuse can occur leading to severe addiction. Many will recall the film Requiem for a Dream where the elderly woman becomes addicted to diet pills, which act as amphetamines to her system. The character’s son did not come and visit very often so the addiction progressed until she eventually lost all control.
Aside from medical reasons there are also emotional issues that come into play when an individual is entering their later years. Loneliness or depression can ensue and without a firm circle or network of friends, an individual can turn to alcohol or prescription medicine as a means of escape.
Clare Mannion, 64, described similar reasoning for her recent pitfall into substance abuse, which stemmed from an emotional imbalance.
"For me, growing older was not a positive thing," she said. "When life became difficult for me, when it appeared that my prejudice about being a boomer or elderly became insurmountable, I turned to the quickest, easiest, legal medication I could find."
As a way of combatting this growing epidemic, Gregory Poole Dayan, associate administrator of the Bronx Jewish Home Lifecare nursing home, has set aside eight beds specifically for elderly patients in need of substance abuse rehabilitation.
Standard protocol usually states that an elderly individual may be transferred from a hospital to a rehabilitation center where they will receive assistance for their “visible aliments” but nothing is done about potential substance abuse problems.
Dayan is seeking to change this protocol by offering substance abuse screenings to every patient who enters the facility.
"We know the boomers are coming and there are going to be more and more in the future," said Dayan. "We also know that in this society, their children are spread all over the country, so they don't come for dinner and they don't see the vodka bottle."