A New Epidemic: Addiction Among Baby Boomers

Last updated on November 4th, 2019

More senior citizens over the age of 60 are becoming addicted to alcohol, painkillers and other prescription medications, but few treatment options cater to this demographic. With the number of Americans over 50 with substance abuse problems expected to reach 5.7 million by 2020, some nursing homes and medical facilities are putting steps in place to address the growing problem.

New Guidelines in Action

The Jewish Home Lifecare nursing home in New York City now screens every newly-admitted patient for signs and symptoms of addiction, even those who are admitted directly from a hospital.

National programs like Alcoholic Anonymous have increased meetings for the elderly in nursing home settings and offer transportation to and from meetings for frail seniors in the community. What’s more, the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in Naples, Fla. opted to create a brand new treatment program dedicated specifically to treating addicts of the Baby Boomer generation – it’s called “BoomersPlus.”

“We know the boomers are coming and there are going to be more and more in the future,” said Gregory Poole-Dayan, associate administrator of the Jewish Home Lifecare nursing home. “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.”

Seniors at High Risk for Addiction

A report released last year by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that illicit drug use among adults between the ages of 50 and 64 rose from 2.7 percent in 2002 to 6 percent in 2013. Part of this rise is because well-meaning family and medical professionals often mistake the symptoms of addiction for old age, while dementia can often cover up the symptoms of substance abuse and even make them worse.

Seniors may turn to substance abuse as a means of curbing feelings of loneliness, anxiety or plain boredom. For anyone who’s an addict, [that’s] the number one trigger.-Steven WollmanAlthough the actual treatment process for senior citizens wouldn’t differ from that of a teenager, they often have different triggers for addiction that would need to be addressed in individual sessions.

“In retirement, there can be depression, divorce, death of a spouse, moving from a big residence into a small residence,” said substance abuse counselor Steven Wollman. “Seniors may turn to substance abuse as a means of curbing feelings of loneliness, anxiety or plain boredom. For anyone who’s an addict, [that’s] the number one trigger.”

An Anti-Abuse Market on the Rise

Major life changes, such as the death of a spouse, chronic illness, or retirement, can contribute to or even exacerbate addiction among the senior citizen demographic. Coincidentally, a handful of abuse-resistant painkillers have recently been introduced on the market; geriatric experts hope these drugs will ultimately prove beneficial to patients struggling with chronic pain management.

Hysingla ER, a painkiller made by Purdue Pharma, L.P., was approved last month by the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA also approved an abuse-deterrent form of Oxycontin last year.

A similar form of Targiniq ER, also made by Purdue, was approved last July, while an abuse-resistant painkiller called Embeda, made by Pfizer, will be available next year.

Learn more about drug abuse and the recovery process.

Photo Source: istock

Does your insurance cover addiction treatment?

Use our free and confidential online insurance checker to see if your insurance covers treatment at an American Addiction Center facility.

See if you’re covered