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Study Shows Collision Course for Aging Boomers and Alcohol, Drug Abuse

Contact: Jennifer Crittenden, 581-2249; George Manlove, 581-3756

ORONO — A recently completed study by the UMaine Center on Aging on alcohol and drug problems among older adults in Hancock County has revealed that abuse is pervasive and getting worse as Baby Boomers age.

The center found through a year-long study that as drug and alcohol problems are increasing among older Mainers, particularly in rural Hancock County, they are poised to become worse as a new generation of boomers, aged 40-60, joins an existing older population already afflicted by substance abuse.

The study, conducted for the Maine Office of Substance Abuse and in partnership with the Healthy Hancock Collaborative, further confirmed what researchers had discovered in previous studies — that many older people suffering from alcohol and drug problems go unnoticed if they routinely drink at home alone. Also, some people may not think about how much they are drinking on a daily basis. For example, someone who has a glass of wine with dinner and a night cap later in the evening would be exceeding federally recommended limits on alcohol consumption.

“They are not getting arrested for OUI and they’re not getting treatment in large numbers, signs that otherwise would underscore the social and health consequences of this disease,” says Jennifer Crittenden, research associate with the Center on Aging. “We’re having a really hard time identifying numbers because with older adults, the abuse issues are really hidden.”

The study will form a foundation for a more ambitious approach to prevention and treatment work that would be carried out by the Center on Aging, Healthy Hancock Collaborative members in their communities, in addition to physicians, social workers and others who work with aging adults.

The findings came from a dozen community focus groups in Hancock County, a statewide survey of counseling and social work professionals, and interviews with a mix of professionals and community members. Secondary data analysis looked at arrest, substance abuse treatment and healthcare data. Though most significant in Hancock County, substance abuse among aging adults is a growing problem throughout Maine and the nation, Crittenden says.

“Older adults have unique needs when it comes to addressing substance abuse, which are not currently being met by existing services,” Crittenden says. “We need this issue to get on the radar screen of physicians and counselors out there working with this population as it is often a hidden problem.”

Among the ideas Crittenden says are being discussed include making everyone from friends and family members to professionals who work with older adults aware of the signs and signals of alcohol and substance abuse, in addition to creating more social opportunities for reclusive older people, particularly in rural or isolated areas.

“We already have resources in Maine that can be brought to bear on this issue,” Crittenden says. “We have clinicians who are working in the field, healthy community coalitions, the Office of Substance Abuse and primary care physicians who work with older adults.”

Part of the research that questioned healthcare providers showed that few knew much about the issue of alcohol dependence and older adults, much less how to address it in their offices.

Crittenden says the study affirmed the difficulty identifying substance abuse situations, partly due to the stigma among aging populations that surrounds the issue and the fierce independence of elders in Maine.

On a more positive note, Crittenden says that while many older adults deny they have substance abuse problems and tend to reject professional intervention, members of the boomer generation may be more willing to seek help. Traditionally more liberal attitudes about drugs and alcohol among many boomers, which in some cases leads to addiction problems, also extend to their attitudes about counseling, therapy and seeking help.

Boomers are more physically and socially active than any previous generation and are showing up on law enforcement and healthcare radar through arrest or treatment statistics, Crittenden observes, which is evidence that the free spirit generation is bringing certain habits along with them as they age.

The University of Maine is working closely with the Healthy Hancock Collaborative to plan local community forums, which can provide an opportunity for community members to learn more about the project findings, as well as start a dialogue about essential next steps in moving the recommendations forward.

Project information tip sheets and the full report are available at


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UMaine News
The University of Maine
Orono, Maine 04469
A Member of the University of Maine System