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In every era of human history older people have looked upon the antics of younger people and concluded that the world is coming to end. But the thing about young people is that, eventually, they grow up. In taking on the responsibilities of adulthood, especially of parenthood, they become responsible citizens.

It is for this reason that many people take a relaxed view of the social liberalism of the last few decades. Yes, the youth of today may behave in ways that have no parallel before, say, the 1960s or 70s, but they’ll still get older, it is reasoned, they’ll still grow up.

But what if they don’t grow up?

In a report for The Fix, Jennifer Matesa suggests that the bad habits of the baby-boomer generation are persisting into old age – where, in fact, they may be getting worse. She begins by telling the story of Carol Aronberg a 69-year-old drug and alcohol addict:

  • "Aronberg is part of what some analysts have described as an approaching tidal wave of addiction in America: older adults and members of the baby-boom generation now in their late 40s to their mid-60s, who develop addiction and get sober late in life.
  • "A report issued by the [US] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has warned that the aging of the baby-boom generation is leading to huge increases in levels of addiction among adults over 50—a fact that, SAMHSA says, will require double the availability of treatment services by 2020."

Barbara Krantz, the medical director of treatment facility, describes the looming crisis as "pharmageddon". Matesa sets out the reasons why baby-boomers are more vulnerable to addiction than previous generations of retirees:

  • "…many of these people, having come of age in the drug-friendly culture of the 1960s and 1970s, have little hesitation about popping painkillers and other pills to deal with the physical and emotional stresses of aging.
  • "…Baby-boomers in particular, Krantz says, are interested in using chemicals to treat their stress—they comprise the generation of ‘the quick fix, better living through better chemistry.’
  • "…whereas patients who grew up during the Depression usually wait to see what treatments, if any, the doctor might advise, their baby-boom counterparts—armed with computer spreadsheets and Internet research—march into doctors offices asking for particular drugs."

The impact of addiction is worsened by the scourges of old age – loneliness and frailty:

  • "Older adults are more vulnerable to booze and drugs for a number of reasons: because of the way metabolism slows with age; because of coexisting medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes or psychological problems; because many older adults live in isolated situations without structure, which allows them to drink or use without anyone else noticing; and because of the ways alcohol and drugs can interact with medications used to manage those problems."

Writing as she does from an American perspective, Matesa notes that the Medicare programme – which pays for the medical bills of retired people – doesn’t cover addiction treatment. In Britain, however, no such exemption applies to our own, over-burdened NHS.

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