Age and Addiction

Age and Addiction Header
Classified as “a complex and chronic brain disease,” drug and alcohol addiction tightly holds users in its clutches and slowly steals all control over their lives.[1] In 2010, approximately 230 million people worldwide used at least one illicit substance.[2] The symptoms of drug dependency include but are not limited to:[3]

  • The development of a tolerance for the substance, requiring the user to utilize increased amounts of the drug to get the desired effect they’re accustomed to
  • Using the drug to cease withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, trembling, perspiration and tiredness
  • An inability to stop using or cut back on the usage of a drug
  • Trouble controlling how much or how often they use the drug
  • A preoccupation with their substance of choice that takes precedence over other things that used to matter to the user, like spending time with loved ones
  • Much of the user’s time being occupied by drug use, recovery from such, or drug-related activities
  • Persistent use of a substance even when it has had detrimental effects on their health, career, and/or personal life
Alcohol Stat Pie Chart

Data from the last two months of 2013 accounts for alcohol still being the most popularly used substance worldwide with a 90.8 percent rate of prevalence.[4] There are 2.5 million alcohol-related deaths across the globe every single year.[5] Regarding emergency room visits for 2011, there were more patients seen in the 21-to-24-year-old age group than for the 12-to-17-year-old or 18-to-20-year-old groups for marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and illicit stimulants.[6] However, when it came to synthetic cannabinoids, those in the 18-to-20-year-old age group trumped the others with a rate at 60.8 per 100,000 as compared to the younger group’s 30.2 and the older group’s 16.3.[7]

It is expected that the rate of drug abuse is only on the rise across the globe. With each passing day, 100 lives are lost to drug-related overdoses in America alone.[8] As of 2010, the rate of drug users encompassed five percent of the Earth’s population; if this remains constant in years to come, there could be as many as 65 million more illicit substance users by the time the year 2050 rolls around.[9] Research and studies are constantly consumed with theories regarding addiction and how it is intertwined with age — if it even is.

Drug Use Spanning Decades

Among all of these generations, there’s one thing that hasn’t wavered much at all in recent years, and that’s the rate of drug use. While marijuana use jumped from 12 percent in 1973 to twice that in 1977 and 33 percent by 1985, cocaine soon took over as the drug of choice leaving marijuana in the dust for a while.[11] As the same trend ensued with coke before meth swept the drug culture, it became clear that Gen Y may have been experimenting with more kinds of drugs than Gen X, but they weren’t really using more drugs in totality.[12]

Gen X grew up inside the walls of President Nixon’s War on Drugs and developed a strong distaste for drug abuse and those who went against the reformed views.[13] With only four million people having tried drugs as a result of a 1960 survey, the 112 million from 2005 is sobering at best.[14] As a result of their upbringing, binge drinking and experimenting with drugs have consistently been less common among the Gen Xers.[15]

People Who Have Tried Drugs

Gen Y has certainly boosted concern for the safety and productivity of our society in the past couple of decades. A 2002 survey accounted for 40 percent of 18-to-25-year-old individuals being binge drinkers, and nearly 15 percent admitted to heavy alcohol use.[16] Numbers like this make it scary to think that 40 percent of all 21 and older members of the population will be made up of Gen Yers by the time we see the year 2021.[17] Baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, grew up in the 1960s and 1970s when the world was a mecca for drug experimentation. Today, drug use is soaring among the boomer crowd with 7.2 percent of 50-to-54-year old individuals and 6.6 percent of 55-to-59-year-old individuals using illicit substances in 2012, up from 3.4 percent and 1.9 percent in 2002.[18]

As of 2010, alcohol was the primary cause of substance abuse-related hospital admissions for people over the age of 50 years old.[19] Other admissions data found that baby boomers were using drugs far more in 2008 than they were in 1992, with marijuana usage jumping from 0.6 to 2.9 percent, cocaine from 2.9 to 11.4 percent, and heroin from 7.2 to 16 percent.[20] Notably, while alcohol is still the number one reason for treatment admission, the rate of such abuse among adults aged 50 and older dropped from 84.6 percent in 1992 to 59.9 percent in 2008.[21]

Drug Use Increase

In 1994, 750 15- and 16-year-old individuals were surveyed, and 71 percent attested to having been offered drugs at some point – a figure that is much larger than the same age group had reported in 1980.[22] Additionally, 41 percent had previously tried marijuana.[23] Thus, this points toward an upward trend in drug abuse within the same age demographic. Furthermore, the amount of Ecstasy that was seized by U.S. Customs in 1994 had risen 88 percent in just one year’s time.[24]

Is Age Just a Number?

Certainly, age has its place in some forums. While it will bend and break for rare exceptions, most people are naturally inclined to follow the same path and pace of development as those who came before them. Generation Z, today’s teens and children, often bear a significant brunt of the blame for concerns over the future of humanity — a stereotype that is heavily weighted with faulty circumstantial evidence of their predecessors. Viewed as lacking motivation or being downright lazy, contemporary depictions of those born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s — often referred to as the Millennials or Generation Y — might be a bit off track.


With Gen Y boasting the highest percentage of college graduates there’s ever been — at 28 percent — is it fair to say they’re not ambitious?[10] Going back even further, Generation X, born roughly between the early 1960s and early 1980s, looks better on paper in comparison, having touted a “live to work” mentality that strongly clashes with the “work to live” ideals of today’s youth, but do these differences equate to faults, or is this just simple evolution?

Does Age Influence Abuse?

Drug and alcohol abuse and addiction can be more common among those who are in the middle stages of their lives or beyond, because many turn to substances to cope with loneliness when faced with divorce, the death of a partner, or children leaving the home. Likewise, many do the same to cope with depression – something that is more common among younger age groups.

Social Media

Today’s youths are drinking far less than earlier generations; in fact, 2013 reports from surveyed 8th, 10th, and 12th graders points out alcohol use rates that are lower than they have been among the same age group since the mid-1990s and perhaps even further back.[25] Nonetheless, there’s still room for underage boozing among Gen Zers, and some reports blame it on peer pressure from the digital age. In one survey of 1,003 adolescents aged 12 to 17 years old, 75 percent reported feeling influenced to engage in drug or alcohol use whenever they would see pictures on social media sites of their peers doing such.[26] Thus, peer pressure might not always come in the same form as it did for earlier generations, but it’s still alive and thriving.

For many, addiction develops when a user fails to get help in the early stages of drug abuse or misuse. This is a common problem among older American generations such as the baby boomers, who often feel embarrassed and ashamed of their drug or alcohol troubles and consider it to be a private matter that they can handle on their own.


Does age play a role in the recovery from drug addiction? It very well could. It is somewhat difficult to discern for sure whether age impacts your chance at remaining drug-free following substance abuse treatment. What is known for sure is that those with support networks who engage only with drug-free friends in clean environments are more likely to remain clean themselves. There have been too many studies to count on the efficacy of substance abuse treatment and the occurrence of relapse. In some cases, such as those that examined the relapse rate among injectable drug users[27] and opiate dependent users,[28] relapse has been associated with younger participants. However, other reviews specifically tailored to defining predictors for addiction relapse found no correlation at all to age.[29] Interestingly, one study found that while there was no direct causation implied between age and relapse, there were more depressive symptoms among 17 to 39 year olds who relapsed than among those who maintained abstinence in the same age group.[30]

Risk Factors

Drug abuse and addiction are more common among people in their mid-teens to their mid-20s.[31] Likewise, it is more probable in someone who falls within the 18-to-25-year-old age range, which is consistent with the majority of government data year after year. Mental health trends have changed greatly over the past several decades. Despite the significant increase in diagnoses between Gen Z and earlier generations, the level of substance abuse remained fairly stable. However, the majority of Gen Z individuals are still children, so the future is unclear as to whether they’ll take after the generation that came before them or not.

Another explanation for this could be as simple as accounting for over-diagnoses or incorrect diagnoses, but it is more likely the result of better mental health care and lessened stigma against mental illness in today’s modern world. The more youths that are getting help for their mental health disorders, the less likely many are to be self-medicating with drugs or alcohol. With depression being the most common mental health problem in existence and impacting over 26 percent of Americans,[32] those ages 15 to 34 years old are at the highest risk of developing major depression.[33]


Of primary concern is the growing trend of mental health problems among Gen Z. The occurrence of emotional disorders among teens in 1986 was only marginally higher than in 1974, but a minimum 70 percent increase was seen by 1999.[34] Combining the increase in rates of depression among children, the twofold increase in adolescent suicide in the past three decades, and the more frequent occurrence of major depressive disorders paints a sad picture of the future for Generation Z.[35] Likewise, addiction does have genetic ties and can be passed on from one generation to the next. Having a parent who is an alcoholic makes you around four times more likely to battle the disease yourself.[36]

Addiction for All Ages

In today’s world, elder abuse and neglect are common realities. For those who are fortunate enough to never have such experiences, the primary concerns generally involve an elderly person’s physical health. As we age, it becomes harder to get around, and physical activity decreases as our blood pressure, insulin levels and cholesterol increase. That being said, one of the most commonly overlooked aspects of old age is actually the prevalence of addiction and drug misuse and abuse.

Recent reports speak cautiously as a warning that 1.4 million adults over the age of 65 are drinking more than the recommended limits, propagating great concern for what will become of the elderly population.[37] From 2002 to 2010, alcohol-related hospital admissions rose by 132 percent for females and 136 percent for males in the UK, according to the same report, showing support for the data they’d gathered.[38]

One of the most alarming trends that is continuing to grow is the abuse and misuse of prescription drugs among baby boomers and the elderly. In 2001, 58,000 people over the age of 54 were admitted to publicly funded treatment centers.[39] Approximately 17 percent of adults over the age of 61 are abusing alcohol or misusing prescription medications, and these numbers are only expected to rise as more baby boomers enter older adulthood.[40]

Almost three in every 10 people aged 57 to 85 in America use a minimum of five prescription drugs.[41] This factor alone aids in increasing an elder’s chance of dependency on a drug as well as the room for error that could cause health problems or an overdose. Among the elderly population, opioids and benzodiazepines are the most commonly prescribed drugs.[42] The combining of medications with alcohol can further complicate matters and put the user’s life at risk.[43]

Treatment for Addicts of All Ages

Sobriety and a drug-free life can be possible for all addicts, no matter how old they are. But earlier intervention can be crucial in treating both substance abuse and possible underlying mental health disorders. Drugs abuse alone results in approximately 200,000 deaths every year worldwide,[44] though young people are more susceptible than anyone else to meet a drug-related demise.[45] In sum, no one is safe from addiction. While younger crowds may be more likely to engage in illicit drug use, the middle aged and elderly aren’t exempt and may account for more alcohol abuse than government data is even aware of.

When you’re in search of the right treatment facility that will assess your individual needs and accommodate for both your substance abuse and potential mental health problems, we can help. We’re networked with some of the best rehabilitation centers in the world that can deliver the help and support you need to kick your addiction and live a clean and sober life. Call us now; don’t put off your future for one more minute.


[1] Buddy T. (n.d.). “What is Drug Addiction?About: Alcoholism. Accessed September 8, 2014.

[2] Yoo, A. (2012 June 28). “Illegal Drug Use Around the World — 5 Things You Need to Know.Time Magazine. Accessed September 8, 2014.

[3]Signs and Symptoms.” (n.d.). National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. Accessed September 8, 2014.

[4]The Global Drug Survey 2014 Findings.” (n.d.). Global Drug Survey. Accessed September 8, 2014.

[5]2.5 Million Alcohol-Related Deaths Worldwide – Annually.” (n.d.). National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. Accessed September 8, 2014.

[6]Highlights of the 2011 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) Findings on Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits.” (n.d.). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Accessed September 8, 2014.

[7] Ibid.

[8]Policy Impact: Prescription Painkiller Overdoses.” (2013 July 2). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed September 8, 2014.

[9] Yoo, A. (2012 June 28). “Illegal Drug Use Around the World — 5 Things You Need to Know.Time Magazine. Accessed September 8, 2014.

[10]My generation isn’t a bunch of unemployed drug addicts.” (2014 June 30). Great Falls Tribune. Accessed September 8, 2014.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Frontiera, J. & Leidl, D. (2010 November 11). “The disillusionment of Generation X.The Washington Post. Accessed September 8, 2014.

[14] Ibid.

[15]Generation X [Born 1965 – 1980].” (n.d.). Value Options. Accessed September 8, 2014.

[16] Ibid.

[17]Generation Y Has Strong Impact on Alcohol Beverages.” (2011 January 17). National Association of Convenience Stores. Accessed September 8, 2014.

[18] Greenthal, S. (2013 October 11). “Drug Addiction And Baby Boomers – An Escalating Problem.The Huffington Post. Accessed September 8, 2014.

[19] Hendrick, B. (2010 June 17). ”Drug Abuse on the Rise in Baby Boomers.WebMD. Accessed September 8, 2014.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Moyes, J. (1995 January 24). “Generation Y: Drugs – The pick ‘n’ mix kids.The Independent. Accessed September 8, 2014.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25]American teens more cautious about using synthetic drugs.” (2013 December 18). University of Michigan News. Accessed September 8, 2014.

[26] Jaslow, R. (2012 August 22). “Survey: ‘Digital peer pressure’ fueling drug, alcohol use in high school students.CBS News. Accessed September 8, 2014.

[27] Evans, J., Hahn, J., Lum, P., Stein, E. & Page, K. (2009 May 1). “Predictors of injection drug use cessation and relapse in a prospective cohort of young injection drug users in San Francisco, CA (UFO Study).Drug and Alcohol Dependency. Accessed September 8, 2014.

[28] Smyth, B.P., Barry, J., Keenan, E. & Ducray, K. (2010 June). “Lapse and relapse following inpatient treatment of opiate dependency.Irish medical journal. Accessed September 8, 2014.

[29] Mohammadpoorasl, A., Fakhari, A., Akbari, H., Karimi, F. & Arshadi Bostanabad, M. (2012 March 20). “Addiction Relapse and Its Predictors: A Prospective Study.Journal of Addiction Research and Therapy. Accessed September 8, 2014.

[30] Hatsukami, D., Pickens, R.W. & Svikis, D. (1981 December 8). “Post-treatment depressive symptoms and relapse to drug use in different age groups of an alcohol and other drug abuse population.Drug and Alcohol Dependency. September 8, 2014.

[31] Shaffer, H. (n.d.). “What age group is most likely to use illegal drugs?ShareCare. September 8, 2014.

[32]Mental Health Basics.” (2013 October 4). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. September 8, 2014.

[33] Weissman, M. (2008 February 27). “Is Depression More Likely To Strike At Any Particular Age?ABC News. September 8, 2014.

[34] Thomas, J. (2011 April 10). “After baby boomers and Peter Pan, a sadder generation.The National. September 8, 2014.

[35] Ibid.

[36]What is Alcoholism?” (n.d.). National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. September 8, 2014.

[37]Older people.” (n.d.). DrugScope. Accessed September 8, 2014.

[38] Ibid.

[39]Substance Abuse Relapse Prevention for Older Adults.” (n.d.). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Accessed September 8, 2014.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Join Together Staff. (2011 September 12). “Elderly at Risk for Prescription Drug Abuse.Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. Accessed September 8, 2014.

[42] Editorial Staff. (2012 February). “Prescription Drug Abuse in the Elderly.Family Doctor. Accessed September 8, 2014.

[43]Older Adults.” (n.d.). National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Accessed September 8, 2014.

[44] Join Together Staff. (2012 June 27). “Drug Abuse Kills 200,000 People Each Year: UN Report.Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. Accessed September 8, 2014.

[45] Stein, J. (2012 January 5). “200 million people use illegal drugs; what is the toll on health?Los Angeles Times. Accessed September 8, 2014.


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