Drug Addiction And Baby Boomers -- An Escalating Problem

Recently I wrote a post about why I don't drink anymore. After its publication, I was contacted about the opportunity to interview Dr. Barbara Krantz, recently featured in the Booming section of the New York Times, about the rise of addiction to alcohol and prescription and illegal drugs among baby boomers.

Dr. Barbara Krantz is the medical director and the director of medical research at the Hanley Center, which bases its treatment programs on the 12-step model of Alcoholics Anonymous. She helped create a baby boomer program at Hanley in 2009 after identifying the needs of this demographic.

Through the University of Florida, Dr. Krantz helps to train doctors in addiction medicine. She is collaborating with Scripps Florida on a study of potential new addiction treatments and is also researching the use of neuroimaging in the study of addiction.

Dr. Krantz earned her medical degree at the Des Moines University College of Osteopathic Medicine and completed a family practice residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. In 2010, she became a fellow at the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

It was recently reported that drug abuse is surging among baby boomers. In fact, for adults aged 50 to 54, the percentage of consumers of illicit substances more than doubled from 3.4 percent in 2002 to 7.2 percent last year. For those aged 55 to 59, it more than tripled from 1.9 percent to 6.6 percent.

Dr. Krantz, Director of Medical Services and the Medical Director of Research at Hanley Center (a part of Caron Treatment Centers) describes how addiction is different in boomers:

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.

1. Why are some people more prone to addiction than others?

As a society, it's important to understand that addiction is a brain disease that requires treatment to change ones behavior and develop a healthy lifestyle. Although this definition is accepted by the American Medical Association, many people still believe that addiction is the result of a lack of willpower and moral failing. Research states that there is a 60 percent genetic vulnerability to the disease, and it can be passed down through generations. As such, it's of the utmost importance to educate yourself and your relatives if addiction runs in the family.

2. What are the defining characteristics of an alcoholic or drug addict?

With some individuals, it's difficult to tell if they are struggling with addiction as they can actually be quite high-functioning. In fact, every dependent individual is different. However, there may be some key warning signs. The primary symptom of the disease is the irrational and irresponsible returning to the drug despite adverse outcomes. You may find your loved one has increased mood swings, has new difficulty making decisions, seems disoriented at times and has an increasing amount of health issues and complaints.

3. In midlife and beyond, many turn to alcohol and drugs to combat loneliness and depression. What suggestions do you have for those whose loved ones are acting in this way?

I would encourage those individuals to talk to their loved ones in a kind and compassionate way. That increases the likelihood that the individual feels she can let her guard down and share what she has been going through. Chances are, the individual is aware of the problem, but may not realize how it's impacting her life or how to change it. It's important to provide your loved one with all of the possible resources she could need. Letting the addict know that you'll go with her to the doctor, an addiction professional, a psychiatrist, or an interventionist is also a great way to encourage her to feel safe and supported.

4. What are the most commonly abused drugs by those who are 50+?

As we get to this age group, prescription pills become more common as surgeries and health ailments become more frequent. However an addict will use anything they can to feel better, and their drug of choice may change over time. What we are seeing most frequently in our patients over 50 is a combination of opiates (pain pills) and benzodiazepines (tranquilizers) with alcohol. This combination is mostly responsible for the high level of unintentional drug overdose and death.

5. What resources would you suggest for those who are seeking help for themselves or their loved ones?

I encourage individuals who are seeking help to try and find a treatment center that is right for him or her. For example, certain facilities focus on treating specific age groups, which is an important factor in the treatment and recovery process. It's also important for families of addicted individuals to get support. At the Hanley Center, we pioneered a program specific to baby boomers and older adults and their families for the best chance at a successful treatment outcome. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence can also help you to learn more about treatment options throughout the United States.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, there is help. If you've experienced someone successfully overcome addiction, share what worked, if you like, in the comments section.

This was previously posted on Empty House Full Mind

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