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Addiction and Overdose is on the Rise among Baby Boomers—How Much Do You Know?

By Kate Silver - This article originally published on GetOld.com

A few years ago, when addiction expert Daniel H. Angres, M.D., learned that he needed to have shoulder replacement surgery, he had some concerns. Not so much about the surgery, itself, but about the painkillers it would require. As someone who struggled with prescription painkiller addiction in the past—30 years ago—Angres knew exposure to the drugs carried a risk. So he spoke with his doctor and anesthesiologist about his history with addiction and devised a plan with his wife—a nurse—to limit his access to pain pills.

As the medical director of the Positive Sobriety Institute and chief medical officer of RiverMend Health Addiction Services, both in Chicago, Angres, sees, every day, that more and more men and women his age are struggling with addiction.

In 2015, the Wall Street Journal published “Aging Baby Boomers Bring Drug Habits into Middle Age,” reporting on a surge in drug use, overdose and arrests among the aging population. The story analyzed mortality data from Centers for Disease Control  and found that accidental drug overdoses increased more than 11 times between 1990 and 2010 for people ages 45 to 64.  According to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), illicit drug use has more than doubled in adults ages 50 to 64 in recent years, jumping from 2.7 percent in 2002 to 6 percent in 2013. Drug addiction isn’t the only problem. The CDC reports that excessive consumption of alcohol causes 21,000 deaths in adults 65 and older in the U.S. every year.

“I’m very careful and for recovering people like me,” says Angres. “As you get older you have to be very, very careful because things break down and you gotta stay as healthy as you can,” says Angres, who has also written a number of books on addiction and recovery, including Positive Sobriety and Healing the Healer: The Addicted Physician.

Angres shared these facts about addiction.

ADDICTION ISN’T ABOUT WILLPOWER—IT’S A DISEASE.

In fact, it’s considered a disease of the brain. And yet, there are still many people out there who believe it is a matter of choice or poor judgment. “There are certain people who, when exposed to addicting substances, lose control of their use,” says Angres. “So the definition of addiction, really, is the continued use of addicting substances despite adverse consequences.”

AGING AND ADDICTION—ALONG WITH AN INCREASE IN OPIOID PRESCRIPTIONS—MAY BE A DANGEROUS COMBINATION FOR SOME BOOMERS.

Angres says that as people get older and encounter more medical, physical and pain problems, they’re often prescribed pain medication. Those who are vulnerable to addiction—including those who grew up in the radical 60s and 70s—may experience problems with prescription painkillers. According to the CDC, sales of prescription opioids have skyrocketed, quadrupling from 1999 to 2014. And yet, the amount of pain that Americans report hasn’t changed.

ALTERNATIVES TO PAIN MEDICATION EXIST.

If a person who has struggled with addiction is in pain, there are options to pursue that aren’t prescription medications, says Angres. He says those alternatives include working with a pain interventionist, steroid injections, physical therapy, the use of meditation and mindfulness, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and more. “There’s a number of ways to treat conditions that might coexist with addiction,” he says.

BECAUSE ADDICTION IS A CHRONIC DISEASE, THE POSSIBILITY OF RELAPSE ALWAYS LINGERS IN THE SHADOWS.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 40 to 60 percent of drug addicts relapse. Because of that, Angres says, vigilance is imperative for the patient and his or her doctors. “The key here is if there is a vulnerability to addiction, which can be demonstrated by previous substance abuse at any age, you’re going to run a much higher risk of having an abuse problem with prescription drugs. Even if, as in many cases, there are legitimate pain problems that trigger it.”

To learn more about Angres’ work at The Positive Sobriety Institute visit www.positivesobrietyinstitute.com.

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