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More Baby Boomers Seeking Help with Addictions

Join Together, December 22, 2006

News Summary

For many Baby Boomers, drug use that began in the freewheeling Sixties and Seventies is landing them in addiction-treatment programs decades later, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported Dec. 10.

"The good news is that they may seek us out -- heck, they're already beginning to," said Marvin Seppala, medical director at the Hazelden Foundation. "The bad news is, I'm not sure we're ready for them."

Research shows that illicit-drug use has been rising among people in their 50s even as it drops among teens. Experts say that aging boomers are now starting to feel the health consequence of long-term drug use.

Some older Americans, who have been smoking marijuana for decades, say they now realize they are dependent on the drug. "Pot has been my friend, my good buddy since I was 16," said one longtime user, identified only as Ava. "I used to think this was a victimless crime, but it's not. I'm a victim. They say you don't really get hooked on pot, not like on meth or heroin. But I know I'm addicted."

Treatment experts say few older addicts seek help on their own, but rather are pushed into programs by their children, sometimes with threats to withhold access to grandchildren unless they get clean. "Some are aging hippies who never stopped using alcohol, marijuana and other drugs. Some got into recreational use of cocaine or crack or meth later in life," said Judie Heckenliable, head counselor at Fairview-University Medical Center's chemical-dependency program. "And some started using as a way of self-medicating, to erase emotional or physical pain."

Even in treatment-friendly Minnesota, however, there's only one residential treatment program exclusively for people ages 55 and older. Despite Baby Boomers' association with the drug culture, most of the older patients enter rehabilitation for alcohol problems.