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Baby Boomer Time Bomb Goes Bang!

At the age of 70, Ronnie Wood, Rolling Stone & notorious hell raiser, has had 8 stints in rehab. But you don’t have to be an ageing rock ‘n’ roll legend to be in trouble with drugs and alcohol.

In 2015/16 more than half a million adults aged between 55 and 74 were admitted to hospitals in England with alcohol-related injuries, diseases or conditions more than for any other age group*. Baby Boomers – those born between 1946 and 1964 – are increasingly experiencing problems with alcohol and drug misuse.

From Swinging Sixties to Sandwich Generation

The carefree ‘summer of love’ generation from the 1960s is now the ‘sandwich’ generation; caught between caring for their parents as well as their grown-up children. The stresses and strains associated with this are undoubtedly among a number of factors in those people seeking relief through increased consumption of alcohol and, on occasion, other substances. Sixties ‘stoners’ who migrated through the ubiquitous ‘coke’ of the 80s and 90s, now find that Skunk is the most widely available form of cannabis. It’s as different from the ‘weed’ of their youth as wine might be to vodka. The psychoactive ingredient, THC (tetrahydrocannabidol), of this genetically modified plant is engineered to create maximum bangs for bucks. The problems it creates can include psychosis, schizophrenia and other erratic behaviours.

The Problem with Prescription Drugs

But it’s not just illegal drugs that are causing problems. Over the counter and prescribed medications are becoming endemic among the over 50s in particular. For example, in 2000, in England and Wales, there were three deaths associated with tramadol, an opioid painkiller regularly prescribed by doctors for moderate to severe pain – in the 50-69 age group. This rose to a staggering 70 deaths by 2015. And tramadol is known to be highly addictive if consumed against instruction and over a longer period of time.

A recent article in the British Medical Journal stated that the number of people over 50 experiencing problems from substance misuse is growing rapidly, with the numbers receiving treatment expected to treble in the United States and double in Europe by 2020.

Treatment for Baby Boomers

Now there is even a treatment programme specifically designed for the Baby Boomer generation. The Hanley Centre – part of the US based Origins Group of rehab centres – opened in Florida in 2009. It importantly recognises that the motivations of someone in later life trying to get clean and sober will be completely different to those in their teens and twenties. Their programme understands and utilises a unique set of treatment methodologies and modalities that recognise the mind-set and barriers to recovery that are characteristic of this particular peer group; not least of which is “I might not have much longer left, so what’s the point?”

It’s Never Too Late to Start Again

Which brings us back to Ronnie Wood. He has now remained ‘clean’ for eight years. He no longer drinks, he doesn’t smoke (“I’ve even kicked the e-cigarettes – what’s the point?”), he doesn’t take drugs and spends his downtime cooking and playing ‘peekaboo’ with his two babies. “I love having my girls with me as much as possible. I’m very hands-on. I’m a dab hand at changing nappies and burping.”

Anything & everything it seems, is possible, including recovery, whatever age you are.

*Local Alcohol Profiles for England,

Page last reviewed and clinically fact-checked | July 27, 2021