“This is a hidden population that is often ignored,” said Dr. Frederic Blow, a professor of psychiatry and director of the University of Michigan Addiction Center.
Dr. Blow said that comparatively few older Americans go into treatment. Families and spouses are embarrassed, and health care providers tend to be less aggressive about referring older patients to rehab, he added.
“Younger people go to get care because their family gives them an ultimatum or their employer has identified the problem, whereas the number one way older individuals get to treatment is through the criminal justice system,” often after an arrest for drunken driving, he said.
Aging baby boomers — the Woodstock generation — had more exposure to alcohol and drugs than previous generations, who viewed the use of such substances as a moral weakness and were much less familiar with marijuana, Dr. Blow said.
The fraying of social networks and shutdowns during the first part of the pandemic exacerbated substance abuse, just as access to cannabis and alcohol increased — one could order drinks or cannabis over the phone and have them delivered to one’s home, Dr. Blow said.
“When you add that to feelings of loneliness and isolation, of feeling at the end of the world in some ways, it became an impetus for people to start using more than they ever had in the past,” he said.