Alcohol, drugs catch up with aging Boomers
The aging generations of baby boomers will raise the percentage of older people using both alcohol and drugs to a new level, even as this group grows to nearly 1 of 5 North Carolinians by 2030.
The effect of drinking and using drugs — from cocaine to prescription pain pills — is still under study, but science and experience show it can be deadly. The state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission is launching an early-warning campaign to alert people, not just about drinking, but also about the larger issues of substance abuse among the elderly.
“I certainly think that it’s going to be a rapidly growing problem, and we in health care need to be aware of it and aware of how to deal with these concerns,” said Jena Burkhart, geriatric clinical pharmacist at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Eshelman School of Pharmacy.
Research into the effects of substance abuse on older people, yielding a number of grim statistics, have sparked efforts by the ABC and the medical community to give people more and better information on the subject. Baby boomers are the generation after World War II, generally those born between 1946 and 1964.
As a boomer and a recovering alcohol and drug user himself, Keith Kimbro, 60, sees plenty of evidence of the trends in his job at the Alcohol/Drug Council in Durham.
“Typically, these people have had some issues that have happened, a car accident, a spouse’s dying, they’re becoming disabled,” Kimbro said. “That’s the people who up to this point have not had an issue with addiction. Then they hit 55 or 60.
“Our tolerance drops. What you were drinking five years ago is making you falling-down drunk.”
In April, Duke researchers Dr. Dan Blazer and Li-Tzy Wu called illicit substance abuse among people older than 50 a “looming public health concern.” The number of Americans 50 and older with the disorder will rise from 2.8 million in the mid-2000s, to 5.7 million in 2020, just eight years from now, the Duke researchers project.
The troubling number of older people with alcohol and drug habits recently got the attention of the state ABC Commission, which previously devoted most of its education efforts to training permitted businesses about the laws and rules they must follow. Now the politically powerful agency, which has fought off moves to turn over its functions to private vendors, wants to broaden its public education efforts.