The baby boomer generation which is now firmly into their late middle age, were famous for aspiring to a life spent dedicated to Drugs, Sex, and Rock & Roll. As with all generalizations, this is an oversimplification, but there is enough of a germ of truth to the characterization to offer some perspective on the current status of the age cohort. This article is from the Psychiatric Times, reported by Richard A. Sherer:
America appears to be winning its war on substance abuse. However, some critics are concerned that we may be losing—or not even recognizing—a broader front in the war. Drug abusers today are more likely to be in their mid-30s to mid-50s or 60s. The consequences include increased drugrelated deaths and increased crime rates and arrests in the adult population.
The article goes on to document the changing demographics of drug use, drug related crime, and drug related medical issues, with a clear skew toward the baby boomers. Why should this age group be more involved in drug use? Drug use has always tended to be a young person's vice; old addicts were always unusual. Most drug addicts either stopped using by their mid-30's or ended up incarcerated or dead, so addiction has always tended to be more common in the young.
Among the post-war generation, several factors came into play that tended to enhance the narcissistic vulnerability and pathology of many who grew up at that time. Drug use became an integral part of their experience of themselves and has remained a source of gratification for many.
There are two primary ways for parents to enhance the narcissistic pathology of their children.
One way that has long been recognized is by being emotionally neglectful. For example, children whose mothers suffer from post-partum depression, which makes it more difficult for the mother to be emotionally available to her needy young infant, are at higher risk for developing Narcissistic character pathology. The other major factor is parental over-indulgence. Children whose parents, for all the "right" reasons, have protected them from all the vicissitudes of life, tend to have less resiliency and a tendency toward the narcissistic need for the environment to help regulate their internal affect states. In other words, people who have more narcissistic vulnerability will tend to become depressed in the face of real life reversals and set backs. In such a case, the usual declines of aging are not just seen as developmental necessities to be negotiated with grace, but as insults to one's self esteem. Baby boomers do not age gracefully.
Many aging boomers have looked to their youth for artificial, external buttresses for their self esteem. Some hearken back to their youthful, idealistic protests and have used the Iraq war to recapture their old feelings. Some resort to plastic surgery to maintain their youthful appearance and deny aging. Some will seek a younger lover and repudiate the aging spouse whose wrinkles and lines are a constant rebuke. Others will return to the drugs that made them feel rebellious, edgy, and powerful in their youth.
[Please do not assume this applies to everyone who wants to look and feel younger; I am particularly interested in those who overly rely on such things as necessary to maintain self esteem.]
Unfortunately, aging bodies do not handle drugs the way that young bodies do; drugs are metabolized more slowly and have more profound effects on the body:
“There is a generational bias going on,” declared Mike Males, PhD, a lecturer in sociology at the University of California's Santa Cruz campus. “Of 3700 drug deaths in California during 2003, only 51 were [in people] under the age of 20.” Consistent with this trend in drug-related deaths, the Drug Addiction Help Line, a referral service, reported that the average age of a person likely to die of a drug overdose was 43 years in 2005, up from 32 years in 1985 and 22 years in 1970.
Males pointed out that the body becomes less tolerant as the drug becomes more concentrated. “But you also have a new population that's taking up hard drugs in later years. Kids are using milder drugs, like marijuana. Ecstasy use has now subsided. These are much more forgiving than harder drugs like heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, or whiskey. You're also seeing stronger drugs, like OxyContin, which is practically the same as buffered heroin, turning up quite a bit among people who do not have histories of serious drug abuse. This should have been studied for 20 years. It's inexcusable that we don't know more about it at this point.”
Artigiani notes that many of the deaths in Washington, DC, involved cocaine. “We also saw a lot of analgesics. In other parts of the country, you might see a lot more deaths from methamphetamine, for instance. We did see a couple of deaths in DC from oxycodone, the active ingredient in OxyContin. There was 1 from hydrocodone, some related to codeine, a couple related to antipsychotics and antidepressants.”
My generation grew up with such logos as "Better living through Chemistry" (a corporate slogan that was co-opted to become an integral part of the 60's mind-set) and "Turn on, Tune in, and Drop out" (advice given by Timothy Leary, an ex-Harvard professor who became a "Guru" of the Hallucinogenic 60's) and many of my cohorts took the advice literally. Too many learned that their internal distress could be quickly and easily covered by the application of various intoxicants. By middle age, people who have always relied on the external world to confirm their self worth, usually find that the world has become less interested in applauding them on a regular basis. As their physical attraction and ability starts to fade, depression often sets in:
The rise in middle-aged drug use parallels an increase in depression among the baby boom generation. One 2005 study found that the highest risk of major depressive disorder was among adults aged 45 to 60 and that more than 57% of patients with major depressive disorder suffered from comorbid alcohol or drug use. “The average depressed patient is about 40 years old,” noted Kenneth B. Wells, MD, MPH, professor of health services at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Public Health.
The idea that we can proceed through life as if we are forever young, sustained by our adolescent sense of omnipotence and invulnerability, represents a form of suicidality masquerading as grandiosity. An adolescent who sniffs Cocaine at 19 may be troubled, may be destined for much more trouble in his future, but still is likely to survive his experimentation intact and has the chance to mature and repudiate the false euphoria that the drug offers in return for genuine life enhancing accomplishments. The aging depressed baby boomer risks his body and mind in return for an illusion of youthful power, freedom, and fleeting euphoria. They have chosen to avoid dealing with maturation in favor of a regressive return to the simplicity of drug intoxication. It is terribly sad, harmful to themselves and to their loved ones, and almost always ends in tragedy.
On Monday, I hope to look more closely at the intersection of Rock & Roll with the Sex- and Drug-fueled Baby Boomer generation.