Sex, Drugs, and Alcohol—Addiction Levels Rising as Boomers & Seniors Approach Retirement

Some aging rockstars find it difficult to give up their accustomed lifestyle of sex, drugs, and rock & roll, and in an interesting twist, a significant number of older adults are heavily partaking in sex, drugs, and alcohol as they transition into their newest phase of life. While they’re not quite rock stars, the number of people aged 50+ in treatment for addiction to be “drastically on the rise,” a recent survey found.

Previous studies have found that as many as 80% of adults aged 50 to 90 remain sexually active, with the number of sexually transmitted infection or disease cases more than doubling between 2000 and 2009 in that age group. And seniors aren’t just having sex: they’re drinking and using drugs, too. 

Addiction levels will continue to rise—leading to an epidemic among older Americans—unless there’s more early intervention and treatment, says the Hanley Center, a drug and alcohol treatment center owned by Caron Treatment Centers.

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The number of older adults who reported using illegal drugs within a year nearly doubled between 2002 and 2007, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.  

While most survey respondents (79%) reported their first experiences with drugs or alcohol occurred before the age of 25, 40% said they didn’t become substance abusers until after age 48. Many named prescription drugs (49.5%) and alcohol (90%) as their substances of choice. 

The survey found depression or anxiety to be the number one reason older adults abuse drugs or alcohol, with other factors including economic or financial stress and retirement.

“Older adults face a distinct set of challenges as they enter their golden years,” said Dr. Barbara Krantz, Medical Director of Hanley Center, in a statement. “This transitional period of life is unique and leads to difficulty in dealing with stressful situations, such as an early retirement or financial strains, which in turn may lead to serious anxiety and depression. Without the proper tools to manage their emotions, older adults turn to quick fixes such as alcohol and drugs, creating the perfect storm for dependency.”

Cannabis Advocacy Group Searching for Senior Potheads in Fla. Retirement Communities

While the Hanley Center is calling for intervention for older drug users, cannabis activist group Silver Tour is going in a different direction.

The group is traveling to senior living communities in Florida in an effort to drum up support among seniors for legalizing marijuana, writes the Wall Street Journal

Silver Tour’s goal is to persuade older adults to support legislation legalizing medicinal marijuana, arguing from a platform that pot is “just what the silver-haired set need[s] to combat conditions like chronic pain and insomnia.” 

Robert Platshorn, who founded Silver Tour in 2010, served nearly 30 years in prison for his role in a 1970s-era marijuana-smuggling ring, WSJ reports. 

Mr. Platshorn, 69 years old, decided to focus on his fellow seniors—a group that isn’t exactly high on the idea of medical marijuana. People who are 65 and older helped sink a 2010 ballot initiative to legalize pot in California, voting 66% against it, more than any other age group, according to exit polls.

“Nobody in the marijuana movement is talking to seniors,” Mr. Platshorn says. Yet “seniors are the only damn people that go to the polls.” In Florida, people 65 and older represent 24% of eligible voters compared with 18% nationally, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of census data.

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes, says Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, an advocacy group. Six more states debated legalization bills in legislative sessions this year, he says.

The activists’ initiative has not been warmly received in Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature, which has traditionally opposed pot legalization. 

Only a small percentage of the 65+ crowd use marijuana for either recreational or medicinal purposes, says the article, citing a 2009 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration report. In the 50-54 age demographic, though, that number rises to 6.1%—indicating that pot usage may rise among seniors as the baby boomers age, the WSJ suggests. 

Read “Joint Effort: Reefer Roadshow Asks Seniors to Support Medical Pot,” or revisit “Booze, Sex & STDs in Senior Living Facilities.” 

Written by Alyssa Gerace