Baby Boomers Still Getting High


Baby boomers is a term referring to the high rates of births in the United States after World War II, 1946-1964.  That was about the same time as the pharmaceutical industry exploded with research into new drugs.  This generation grew up and lived through the 60’s large-scale drug use and the 70’s glamorous drug use. Bridgeway Behavioral Health’s CEO, Michael Morrison, wrote an article about the baby boomers’ drug use.

Let’s face it, the baby boom generation, of which I am part, used drugs and partied like no other generation before or after.  It’s nothing to be particularly proud of, but the culture of the 60s and 70s was one of excess in many ways.  Growing up, my friends and I all started drinking and getting high around 14 or 15.  Many of us went on to “experiment” with many different kinds of pills, powders, and plants that would change the way we felt, thought, and acted.  Most baby boomers grew up, found out that partying does not mix well with adult responsibilities, and either stopped or dramatically curtailed the use of drugs and heavy drinking.  However, a significant number of my folks from my generation developed some form of substance abuse disorder and either died early or eventually got clean and sober. An interesting and probably predictable phenomena is occurring as the baby boom generation ages and it seems that they have not completely forgotten the “better living through chemistry” thinking of the past.

baby boomers

According to an analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), American senior citizens are abusing drugs, being arrested for drug offenses, and dying from drug overdoses at increasingly higher rates. These spikes and surges have occurred right along with the increase in the senior population from the 76 million baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964. Confronted with the pains and losses associated with aging, baby boomers, who as teens and young adults used drugs at the highest rates of any generation, are once again, or still, abusing substances.

The trend in substance abuse has attracted the attention of US health officials, including those at the National Institute on Drug Abuse. From 1990, when no baby boomers were among the senior population, and 2010 when most were, the rate of death by accidental drug overdose for individuals aged 45 through 64 increased 11-fold. That rate increase was higher than that of any other age group during that time period. For the first time, the upsurge has driven the accidental overdose rate for these late middle age adults higher than that of 25- to 44-year-olds. More than 12,000 baby boomers died of accidental drug overdoses in 2013, the most recent data available. According to the CDC, that number is higher than that of individuals who died that year from either car accidents or influenza and pneumonia.

baby boomers

Healthcare analysts attribute the senior drug abuse problem to the convergence of two key factors: a generation with a penchant for mind-altering substances growing older in an era of widespread opioid painkiller abuse. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), pain pills are second to marijuana as the most popular ways for baby boomers to get high. SAMHSA conducts an annual national survey on drug use; the agency also notes that opioid painkillers also are the drug most often involved in overdoses, followed by anti-anxiety drugs, cocaine, and heroin.

Unfortunately, surges in seniors getting help for these problems have not been seen at anywhere near the rate of growth in the problem itself. There have always been difficulties in getting older adults to access treatment for alcohol and drug disorders.  The reason seems to be threefold:

  1. Physicians are hesitant to confront the issue head on.  Often seniors present with medical problems or emotional problems and questions about their drinking patterns or drug use are not even asked.
  2. Families often do not confront the issue, instead rationalizing the drinking or drug use as something that the senior will never change or even deserves.  It is not at all uncommon to hear families say things like “Oh, just let Grandpa alone.  He’s not hurting anyone but himself.  And besides, he worked hard all these years and can do what he wants.”
  3. Symptoms associate with substance abuse disorders can also be mistaken for legitimate physical or emotional problems. Problems with memory, walking, depression, eating, and sleeping can often be related to drinking, tranquilizers, or pain pills, but are attributed to physical problems or grief.

The 76 million baby boomers are already placing a huge strain on the healthcare system.  The complications that substance abuse adds to the host of legitimate medical problems can only drive healthcare costs higher.  Careful and thorough assessment of the whole person is critical to the wellness of these individuals.  Prescribing practices should be carefully considered when treating this group of individuals.  Families and physicians need to address this issue honestly and with compassion.

baby boomers

Substance abuse is not just for the younger crowd, someone’s great grandparent could be suffering from some type of substance abuse.  If you are a baby boomer or know of a baby boomer who is suffering from addiction, please contact us at 866-758-1152 or

If you enjoyed this post, or found it informative, please consider sharing it!

Comments are closed.