WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — All is peaceful and orderly on the older adult unit at Hanley Center, where substance abusers over the age of 55 are spared the noisy swagger of addicts half their age across the campus.
In their separate oasis, alcoholics and prescription drug abusers of a certain age do not curse at one another, raise their voices in anger or blast music at midnight. They don’t brag about their macho pasts or stage drama-queen breakups on the communal pay phone. They show up on time for therapy groups.
“We have different health issues, different emotional issues, different grief issues,” said Patrick Gallagher, 66, who was treated here for a dual addiction to pain medication and alcohol. “We need more peace and quiet and a different pace.”
Across the country, substance abuse centers are reaching out to older addicts whose numbers are growing and who have historically been ignored. There are now residential and outpatient clinics dedicated to those over 50, special counselors just for them at clinics that serve all ages, and screenings at centers for older Americans and physicians’ offices to identify older people unaware of their risk.
Addiction specialists and organizations for the elderly anticipate a tidal wave of baby boomers needing help for addictions, often for different substances and with different attitudes toward treatment than the generation that came before them. Federal data shows the shifting demographics: In 2005, 184,400 Americans who were admitted to drug treatment programs — roughly 10 percent of the total — were over 50, up from 143,000, or 8 percent of the total, in 2001.
The same report, by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, foresees 4.4 million older substance abusers by 2020, compared with 1.7 million in 2001 — numbers that are “likely to swamp the current system,” said Deborah Trunzo, who coordinates research for the agency.
The New York Times