As more and more teens say no to drugs and alcohol, two new studies indicate that another population segment is increasingly turning to pot and booze: their grandparents.
Marijuana use by adults age 50 and older “increased significantly” from 2006 to 2013, growing by 57.8 percent among 50- to 64-year-olds surveyed and a startling 250 percent for those older than 65, according to the study published earlier this month in the Society for the Study of Addiction.
The study also found 6.9 percent of the elderly tokers met criteria for marijuana abuse or dependence, while the overwhelming majority said they had no problems with smoking pot on a monthly or weekly basis.
“The Baby Boomer generation has higher reported rates of substance use compared to any generation preceding it, and stark differences in attitudes towards recreational and illicit drug use,” the study reads. “However, there is limited research that addresses the epidemiology and health status of older adults who use drugs. We also understand little about how drug use impacts aging or how aging inﬂuences substance use. The lack of knowledge in this area constrains the care for a changing demographic of older adults with higher rates of substance use.”
A second study focused on the demographic trends of binge drinking — five or more drinks during the same occasion — also found growing rates of the practice and alcoholism among older adults, particularly among women and Hispanics.
But Joseph Palamar, a co-author of both studies, said he’s more concerned about the possible social and legal ramifications of increased substance abuse by elderly Americans than the potential impact on their health.
“As always, my biggest concern [related to marijuana use] is the risk for arrest or incarceration,” Palamar told the Washington Post. “Nobody wants their grandma to be arrested or incarcerated.”
Recreational pot use was legalized four years ago in Colorado and Washington, but remains illegal federally. Residents in California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada last month voted to join the ranks of Colorado and Washington, while measures passed in Arkansas, Florida and North Dakota allowing doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to patients. In all, 28 states have passed legislation on marijuana use.
But Palamar said the new studies — especially the findings on binge drinking — suggest there might be a changing of the guard under way in terms of whom to watch at the holiday work party.
“The young people have [always had] to worry about doing something inappropriate in front of their bosses,” Palamar said. “We also have to worry about the boss getting out of hand in front of his or her employees.”
Overall, 7.1 percent of adults age 50 and up and 1.4 percent of those age 65 and older reported using marijuana in the past year in 2013, compared to 4.5 percent and 0.4 percent in 2006, respectively.
Older adults with less than a high school education or low incomes used the drug more than their counterparts, and people with depression or anxiety are much more likely to smoke pot than the average of 4.8 percent.
Some senior citizens may be turning to pot to treat their health afflictions and illnesses as they age, according to the Washington Post, citing a number of studies showing a link between marijuana use and mental disorders.
Meanwhile, the study on binge drinking and alcoholism among older adults found that 14.9 percent of those age 50 and older had five or more drinks during one occasion within the past month in 2013-14, up from 12.9 percent during 2005-06.
Hispanics reported the highest rate of binge drinking (17.2 percent) among all races and men were more than twice as likely to binge compared to women (9.1 percent), but the rate among women skyrocketed 44 percent in 2005-06, a time when only 6.3 percent reported binge drinking, the Washington Post reports.
The findings follow last week’s release of the 2016 “Monitoring the Future” survey,released Tuesday by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which found that students in eighth, 10th and 12th grades from private and public high schools across the country have reported the lowest rates of use of inhalants, heroin, methamphetamine, alcohol, cigarettes and synthetic cannabinoids since the start of the survey in 1975.
“What we’re seeing this year — which actually repeats what we saw last year — was significant decreases in the patterns of illicit substances across all ages: 8th, 10th and 12th, except actually for the use of marijuana among 12th graders, where the levels have been stable as it relates to the yearly, the monthly and the regular use,” NIDA director Nora Volkow said. “Those have not changed.”
Among eighth-graders surveyed, however, Volkow said the use of marijuana in the past year has gone down significantly, falling to 9.4 percent from 11.8 percent in 2015, while rates for sophomores and seniors remained stable compared to last year at 23.9 percent and 35.6 percent, respectively.
Richard Miech, a research professor at the University of Michigan and a senior investigator in the 2016 “Monitoring the Future” survey, said there seems to be a change in attitudes toward marijuana, especially among young people.
“The main theme across all the findings is the decline in drug use, but marijuana among 12th graders has stayed constant,” Miech told The Post. “There seems to be a big shift in attitudes toward marijuana and the idea is that it’s moving toward being seen as a fun, recreational drug as opposed to a dangerous one.”