By: Peggy Spear for Soberinfo.com
I learned how to make a screwdriver when I was 8-years old.
It wasn’t for me, but for my jovial uncle, who would arrive like clockwork at 1 p.m. on Saturdays or Sundays, belt back a few with my mom, and be off to his next stop.
They were halcyon days of the early 1970s, as all I remember was a lot of laughter and good cheer from the grown-ups while my cousin and I would play bartender, sometimes even mixing drinks for ourselves.
It’s how we grew up, and there was nothing wrong with it. It wasn’t until I was in rehab and recovery that I saw how that early exposure to drinking was one contributor to my own disease.
I was a “cusp” baby boomer, born in 1964, but as I grew up I had plenty of practice drinking with the help of my own three older siblings, who did everything from pour me drinks when I was 12 to buy me alcohol when I was in high school. Of course, I ignored their alcohol and drug use…it didn’t affect me. But they were true children and teens of the 60s and 70s, and it was just the thing to do.
Luckily, we are all now clean and sober. But a lot of baby boomers aren’t. The 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found the rate of binge drinking among people ages 65 and older was 8.2 percent, and the rate of heavy drinking was 2 percent. Among adults ages 50 to 64, the rate of current illicit drug use has increased during the past decade, the survey found.
The survey authors estimate the number of adults age 50 and older who will need alcohol or drug treatment will increase from 2.8 million in 2002-2006, to 5.7 million by 2020. Currently, 4 million older adults need substance use treatment, including 0.4 million needing treatment for illicit drugs, 3.2 million needing treatment for alcohol, and 0.4 million needing treatment for both.
The rate of illicit drug use among baby boomers has been higher than those of older generations, as well.
Why is it that this generation is one of the fastest growing segments of alcoholics? I have some thoughts:
1) Talking’ Bout My Generation:
This is the “hippie” generation, the segment of the population who espoused free love, and even freer drug and alcohol use. It was a rebellion against the staid authority of the 1950s, as well as political issues of the time. But for many baby boomers, drinking and drugging is how they lived their lives, even into mid-adulthood and beyond.
2) I Dream of Martinis:
The media of the 1960s and 70s normalized and even glorified drinking. After all, didn’t Genie meet Astronaut Tony with a martini in hand every day on “I Dream of Genie”? It sure seemed like it. This normalization made it okay for many baby boomers to mimic that Don Draper-like practice.
3) You’re Gone and I Got to Stay High:
A 2014 University of Minnesota study concludes that the baby boomer generation was responsible for the extraordinary rise in marital instability after 1970. They are now middle-aged, but their pattern of high marital instability continues. And pardon me if I draw a sketchy line here, but marital instability and divorce often leads to increased substance abuse, whether out of sheer loneliness or an increase in alcohol-fueled dating habits.
4) Vive La Resistance:
Many baby boomers, yours truly included, are stubborn when it comes to listening to doctors, dentists, psychologists, etc. when it comes to good self-care. Our generation was taught to be rebellious, that we knew best when it came to our own health. We resist well-intentioned advice, especially when it comes to curbing something we love — like drugs and alcohol. After all, if Keith Richards can still perform after all the trash he’s put into his body over the years, then we should be able to, as well.
5) We’re Getting Old:
Plain and simple, our bodies are letting us down, and we can’t do anything about it. We can’t metabolize alcohol and other drugs like we used to, so the consequences are higher: We can’t drive after four or five glasses of wine like we used to, so we get that damn DUI; we feel more depressed and anxious; we begin to suffer from diseases like diabetes, pancreatitis and even gout.
Yes, gout, the “old person’s disease.” When these things happen, it’s almost inevitable that a baby boomer must examine their drinking and drugging habits. And when that happens, many will realize they have been abusing alcohol and drugs for years, and if they want to stay alive, they must seek help.
It was my own aging process that finally helped me to stop drinking. The hangovers were debilitating, my sugar-levels were pre-diabetic and the incomprehensible demoralization each day was almost unbearable. I used to be able to handle drinking two bottles of wine a night. Thank goodness I’m growing old and had to stop. My own “summer of love” is going on two years now and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Peggy Spear is a San Francisco Bay Area-based writer and editor, with nearly two years of sobriety achieved one day — sometimes less — at a time. Reach her at Peggy.firstname.lastname@example.org or through soberinfo.com.