Baby Boomers And Addiction – Part 1
As our nation’s largest generational group reaches retirement, new concerns spring up around the mounting rates of addiction in this large and aging demographic. The baby boomer generation, by dint of sheer numbers, has long influenced the trends and direction of the U.S. in almost all areas of life. Though young people may have the corner on the cutting edge, it is the people born post World War II between 1946 and 1964 that either respond or don’t respond to the prevailing culture. How are the patterns and needs of baby boomers in addiction and recovery shaping the field of treatment and rehab? How do we handle addiction in an aging population? What special approaches should be taken?
Spare Time – Anxiety, Depression And Alcoholism
As baby boomers progress in the life cycle, professionals are seeing them forge wide paths into the realm of substance abuse, primarily alcoholism. As this population ages and retires, they face obstacles not nearly so prevalent in their parents’ generation. Many, for example, will live many years beyond retirement—how will these years be spent? Many have poured themselves into careers with workaholic ardor—now what shall be done with the spare time? Rates of anxiety and depression have also skyrocketed among boomers, making them a fertile breeding ground for substance and process addictions.
And now the challenge faces medical and mental health professionals: How to meet the mental health and addiction treatment needs of the aging baby boomers? What trends will arise and what challenges will manifest?
Recently, The New York Times addressed the issue in its health section through a two-part Q&A with Dr. Barbara Krantz, medical director of an addiction treatment center in Florida. “Advice on Addiction in Boomers,” Part 1 and Part 2, were responses to questions from individuals concerned about their own drinking patterns or those of a partner, as well as adult children unsure of how to handle parental alcoholism. Krantz describes some of the unique needs, challenges and solutions surrounding the issue of addiction in the baby boomer population.
Unique Patterns And Needs In Baby Boomers
While the fundamental recovery principles are essentially universal and change little from person to person or generation to generation, professionals in addiction and recovery recognized that boomer addicts could benefit from a treatment plan that was more holistic in its approach—one that aimed to speak to them and their unique perspective, cultural mindset, and experiences.
Dr. Krantz details the rationale behind the development of a treatment approach geared specifically to baby boomers:
“We created a specific program for baby boomers because their socialization and culture created unique issues that need to be addressed. Many boomers grew up at a time when there was a cultural acceptance of drugs and alcohol. It was a time when authority was questioned and knowledge was sought. Woodstock, the Vietnam War and other important generational elements are critical to note in treating them. It’s also important to approach boomers on an intellectual level. They need to fully understand why we approach treatment the way we do, because they search for knowledge and understanding rather than passively accepting authority.”
Addictions Beginning Later In Life
While many boomers perhaps never manifested addictions in mid life, the retirement years often present a fertile breeding ground for the development of an addiction or the exacerbation and escalation of what might have been previously termed “heavy drinking.” New stresses arise at this age. Marital problems come to the forefront when the children have finally left the nest. There are economic strains resulting from a depressed economy, late in life job loss, uncertainty about Social Security and how long retirement funds will last, hormonal changes, the illness or loss of a spouse, scattered social connections leading to isolation and loneliness, the unstructured schedule of retirement life, and the perceived loss of one’s sense of purpose. The rise of depression and anxiety is also a factor. Significant numbers of baby boomers are taking prescription drugs in an attempt to manage one or both of these conditions.
Untreated mental illnesses as well as the life conditions listed above have frequently led boomers to turn to a substance or process addiction for “support.” Certainly, as a demographic, they are not unique in this—people have been turning to alcohol to deal with the stresses and tragedies of life for centuries. But because of the greater size of this age group, treatment professionals face greater numbers of incoming patients.