The addiction rate in midlife adults has been steadily rising, with up to 17 percent of people in this age group being affected by a substance use disorder. The actual addiction rate in midlife adults may be even higher, as these statistics are generally underestimated and often go undiagnosed and untreated.

Baby Boomers and Substance Abuse

Substance abuse issues are no longer associated with only teens or young adults. The baby boomer generation, those born between the years 1946 and 1964, is more susceptible to becoming dependent upon drugs or alcohol than you may have previously thought. A rise in the addiction rate in midlife adults has been correlated to an increase in depressive disorders among adults who are 45 to 60 years old.

Baby boomer adults experimented with illicit drugs more than any other generation, especially during the 1960s and 1970s. As they got older, many baby boomers continued abusing recreational drugs. By 1979, at least 50 percent of high school seniors had used illegal drugs, making that year’s graduating class the highest level of substance users in any graduating class either before or since then.

If you are a baby boomer, physical and mental problems may crop up that can lead you back to substance use. This increase in drug use is linked to prescription medications, such as opioids, that are often given to adults for age-related illnesses and to treat painful symptoms. There is a higher rate of accidental overdose for aging baby boomers than for 18-to-45-year-olds.

Addiction Rate in Midlife Adults: Who’s at Risk

Older adults are at risk for addiction abuse for a few different reasons. Some midlife adults want to recreate their youthful experiences with drug use, now that they may have an “empty nest” with their children off to college or have moved away from home to begin their own families.

As you age, you may find that past the age of 65 you are being prescribed more drugs than in the past. When you begin taking more than one prescription medication on a daily basis, the risk of making errors increases, as does the risk of harmful drug interactions. An aging liver also becomes less able to filter medications from your body efficiently, causing you to become addicted to prescription medication at a lower dose than might affect a younger person.

If you are prescribed opioids to control pain, be aware that you can become addicted to these drugs if taken for an extended period of time, or if too high of a dose is ingested. Do not increase your dosage of opioids unless advised to do so by your physician.

Benzodiazepines to treat anxiety or insomnia are also addictive drugs that many adults in midlife need to take, though they are quite addictive when not taken with care.

If you find that you have become too dependent upon prescription medications or illicit drugs, please seek out help and speak to your physician. Opioids are good treatment strategies for acute and intermittent pain but become a serious problem when used for chronic pain over long periods of time. Your clinician, who is aware of the addiction rate in midlife adults, can direct you toward appropriate treatment interventions.