James D. Huysman Psy.D., LCSW

Life in the Recovery Room

US Trends, The New Addicts - Some Boomers Doing It Like 1969

Boomers and Seniors- America's Next Addicts

Posted Aug 15, 2010

addictions, boomers, seniors

Partying Like it was 1969

The publication, Demo Dirt, www.demodirt.com is a wonderful resource that is available to all of us. It gathers trends and analysis around solutions concerning the United States. Recently, Galia Myron, the Senior Editor wrote an article that I wanted to share with my readers that is so important to understand. I was grateful she and her prestigious online magazine interviewed me to discuss this trend. More and more at "Life in the Recovery Rooms," we will be discussing the the US trends concerning the addictions of our boomers and seniors. 

Galia Myron does the subject a great service as we continue to shed a spotlight on this pandemic.

About five percent of Baby Boomers--or about 4.3 million adults over age 50--are abusing drugs, says a report from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration which examined the drug habits of almost 20,000 American adults born between 1946 and 1964. Younger Boomers, about 50 to 59, were more likely to smoke marijuana than those aged 65 and up, who were more likely to abuse prescription drugs. Harder drugs like crystal meth and cocaine are not an issue for this demographic, but medical experts warn that due to their age, these seniors may experience acute health issues as a result of their drug use. Social worker James Huysman, PsyD, LCSW, CAP says that the country is facing a "Silver Tsunami."

"It is yielding the greatest amount of new addicts in our country," Huysman says. "Chemicals were culturally a part of Boomers' upbringing and no doubt the past is catching up with us."

There are many challenges the mental health industry faces to tackle the issue, he adds. "Primary care physicians are overworked, allied health professionals are feeling burnout, pain management clinics are on the rise, [and there is] a lack of coordination among doctors in terms of patient care," Huysman explains. "[There is] an inadequate amount of reimbursement for addiction, and other behavioral health challenges are all contributing to the bleak picture. Hollywood's incessant drumbeat of quick fixes and talk, courtroom and reality shows [indicates that] prescriptive measures are not helping either."

Huysman says that in his role as executive director at a caregiver clinic, he sees caregivers of chronically ill patients succumb to addiction. "[They] are unwittingly becoming a part of these sad statistics," he says, adding that they are "self medicating anxiety, depression and fear."

Boomers, Huysman urges, must heal themselves, but another danger of addiction, he adds, is its burden on society, especially as people with addictions age. "The staggering numbers that addictions costs American society is paling in the face of what the caregiver population costs are impacting corporate America," he maintains. "When the two are combined, the emotional, medical and psychological costs are devastating. Addictions are a family disease. There is no identified patient. Everyone is impacted intergenerationally, especially future generations."

James Ross, founder of James Inspires, an online resource for loved ones of people addicted to alcohol and drugs, agrees. "One out of three Americans are currently suffering from someone else's substance abuse," he contends. "In 2009 I helped just over 3,000 people dealing with these issues."

Most of his subscribers are women (85 percent), and nearly half are Baby Boomers (45 percent), he says, who are either dealing with their spouse's addiction of a child or grandchild's substance abuse. Only 15 percent of his readers are men, Ross notes.

The government study notes that younger generations have been less likely to use drugs, and that Boomers exceed their predecessors in substance abuse. Are Boomers who are still addicted to controlled substances a product of that generation?   "We would like to think that this is a generational cyclic phenomena," Huysman says. "My fear is that it gets passed on from generation to generation whether that is through addictions, co-addictions, traumatic psychological challenges or any other psychological challenge that impacts families and child-rearing. Divorce rates are at its highest, and a backdrop of economic bad times are all incubators for greater problems that loom ahead if we get complacent on these issues at all."

Ross agrees that the current financial climate makes is more challenging to fight addiction. "The primary challenge is maintaining financial stability. As their use continues their finances are put on the back burner resulting in job loss, business loss, divorce," he says, adding that even in the poor economy, sales of alcohol have increased.  

In addition to potential trauma that Huysman says families of addicts face, are younger generations at greater or lesser risk of developing addictions? "It's a 50/50 toss up," Ross says. "Some learn the lessons by watching their parents suffer and then make every effort to avoid the same patterns. Others follow in their parents footsteps because they learn when times get tough that it's easier to turn to substances for a 'temporary fix [or a] mental vacation' from the pressing issues."

Ross says that people with addictions unwittingly hurt their loved ones, perhaps even more so than themselves. "For the most part it's the people left to pick up the pieces and deal with the collateral damage who suffer the most."

This may account for some sex differences in the addiction sphere."The pivotal decision maker and caregiver in any family is most likely [the woman]," Huysman says. "No doubt the anxiety and self-medication are driving a disproportionate number to drink and drug, usually much more under the radar than men, who 'crash and burn' in a much more visible manner. Corporate EAPs [employment assistance programs] are helping a great deal in having men and women self-identify but so much more has to be done to educate, empower and energize our Boomer population to take care of itself, before it passes on the shrapnel to future generations."

Drugs and drink are not the only addictions to watch out for, Huysman warns, "Other addictions are on the rise, especially in men who are technologically-driven; they include pornography and Internet addictions."

To be more involved in the solutions around boomer and addictions worlds of Boomers, Zoomers and Seniors please go www.drjamie.com and sign up. For immediate support and a wonderful social media network that is available 24/7 please visit www.intherooms.com

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