Drugs and Life Expectancy
The adverse effects of illicit drug use have been well-documented. Methamphetamines destroy your teeth, cocaine can cause convulsions, and smoking marijuana irritates the respiratory tract. These short-term consequences pale in comparison, though, to the ultimate price that drug users often pay — a life that’s cut short by substance abuse. Indeed, there is an inversely proportional relationship between drug use and life expectancy, proving that recovery is often a matter of life and death.
If you or somebody you love is struggling with drug use, you should understand the implications of the crisis. Learn more about how drugs have an impact on life expectancy rates, how drug use varies throughout generations, and how you can overcome the stronghold of addiction to live a full and healthy life.
Drug Use Patterns of Different Generations
One of the most interesting aspects of drug research is the difference it’s revealed in various generations’ drug use. The current generation of young people is often maligned for their supposed shortcomings, but studies suggest that they may be using drugs at much lower rates than previous generations. See what else research says about the relationship between age and drug abuse.
Baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1965, following World War II and after the Silent Generation. Members of this generation are now commonly known for their supposed conservatism, but research reveals that they haven’t always been conservative when it comes to drugs. Most notably, baby boomers were one of the first generations to exhibit higher acceptance rates toward drugs and greater susceptibility to substance abuse.
It’s unsurprising, then, that early Boomers ushered in the psychedelic 60s and 70s. Throughout this era, drugs such as mushrooms, Quaaludes, marijuana, and molly were glamorized in music and increasingly acceptable for recreational use. According to addiction expert Helena Hansen, the 60s and 70s were also the time when heroin became a public health crisis affecting inner-city citizens and minorities.
Unfortunately, these trends have not tapered as Baby Boomers continue to age. One study conducted in 2005 predicted that by 2020, drug use among the elderly would increase substantially, and it’s true that drug use rates have increased when compared to prior generations. Still, it should be noted that only a small fraction of Baby Boomers admitted to drug use in 2012.
Members of Gen X hold the unfortunate distinction of being the most likely to die by drug overdoses or suicide. Gen X includes people born at the tail end of the 60s through the start of the 80s, and many unique social phenomena set Gen X apart from Boomers who came before. So-called “latchkey kids” became a hallmark of this generation as parents were increasingly absent and children were left unattended.
With this lack of structure and supervision, it makes sense that Gen Xers would become the most stressed-out generation — and that they would turn to drugs. In addition to the aforementioned likelihood of overdose, studies show that early members of Gen X had lower rates of drug use than Baby Boomers, while later members of Gen X — those who were born between the years of 1973 and 1980 — saw drug use start to pick up again. Researchers have found that drug use rates have remained consistent — and potentially even worsened — as Gen Xers continue to age.
Millennials have always been a lightning rod for critique. People born between 1980 and 1996 saw the invention of the internet, the tragedy of 9/11, and a series of economic crises. These experiences may seem like a recipe for substance abuse susceptibility, but many sources have proclaimed the opposite to be true. Indeed, research reveals that Millennials use illicit drugs at lower rate — but this fact comes with a catch. While Millennials may be less likely to abuse illegal drugs, they’re more likely to abuse prescription drugs.
The increase in prescription drug abuse can likely be traced back to the massive uptick in opioid prescriptions that emerged in the 2000s. According to statistics, the prescription of opioid analgesics went up by a stunning 104% between 2000 and 2010. This increase in prescriptions has overlapped with a 500% increase in deaths due to opioid overdoses between 1999 and 2017. It’s clear that this generation needs help breaking free from substance abuse — especially addiction to opioids and prescription drugs.
Gen Z — also commonly called “Zoomers” — are the children born in the mid-90s through the early 2010s. This generation is still young and research on their drug use is thus scarce, but the data indicates that Zoomers are dramatically less likely to use drugs than their Millennial, Gen X, and Boomer predecessors. This may be due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it may also be attributed to the increased awareness of substance abuse and mental health that’s become a defining characteristic of Gen Z.
Indeed, many members of Gen Z are passionate about social causes and environmental justice — concerns that are somewhat opposed to illicit drug use. Still, phenomena such as the rising popularity of drug abuse-themed TikTok content indicate that Gen Z isn’t out of the woods yet. In the coming years, time will tell whether Gen Z can break the pattern of increasing drug use or whether they’ll fall prey to the same substance abuse that has plagued prior generations.
Life Expectancy for Different Generations
Drug abuse has affected every generation differently. These differences may be reflected in the varying life expectancy rates among Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, and Zoomers. Find out whether drug use has contributed to lower lifespans.
Baby boomers achieved an amazing feat when they hit the highest life expectancy rates recorded in history. A person who is currently 65 may live to be 84.5 on average. This is almost three whole years longer than the life expectancy of a 65-year-old living in 1980. The increase is typically attributed to Boomer’s increased awareness of health and fitness as well as improved medical technology. With more resources to access better nutrition and healthcare, Boomers are in a prime position to live longer than ever before.
It should be noted that Boomers’ drug use — or lack thereof — is an important factor in their increased life expectancy. While Boomers may have indulged in drugs at higher rates than their predecessors, many of the drugs that were popular in the 60s and 70s were neither as lethal nor as addictive as the drugs that are most popular now. Psychedelics, for example, were often the drug of choice — and for some Boomers, still are. Although these drugs can certainly be abused, their dangers don’t match the deadly potential of drugs such as opioids or methamphetamine.
Generation X has seen revolutionary improvements in medicine, technology, and amenities to support a better quality of life — so shouldn’t this generation also see dramatic improvements in their life expectancy rates, too? Unfortunately, research indicates that this simply isn’t the case. Instead, studies indicate that the average member of Gen X will live to be just 78.7 years old — 5.7 years less than Baby Boomers.
Additionally, these same studies show that Gen Xers will spend a greater portion of their lives in poor health than prior generations did. This concerning fact may be related to the spike in illicit drug use that emerged among Gen X in the 90s and 2000s. Indeed, Gen X was arguably the first generation to truly discover the dangers of drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin on a widespread level. Perhaps this generation’s indulgence in such substances bears a correlation to their decreased quality of life and lower life expectancy.
If Gen X was the first generation to have widespread access to cocaine and methamphetamines, Millennials were the first victims of the opioid overprescription epidemic. This has proven to be one of the deadliest drug abuse crises in history, with hundreds of thousands of people — many of whom are Millennials — dying due to an opioid overdose. This tragedy has cost Millennials years from their life expectancy rates, with their projected average lifespan coming in at just 78.6 years — lower than that of Boomers and Gen Xers alike.
The declining life expectancy of Millennials has been a cause for concern for several years now. Many sources say that long work hours and the inevitability of burnout are to blame, but Millennials’ increase in opioid abuse is certainly a contributing factor, too. Prevalent use of other drugs such as methamphetamine and cocaine may also be part of the problem. With increased rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidality, drug use among Millennials may continue to worsen.
Much like Millennials, Zoomers are dying from opioid overdoses at increasing rates. Research also predicts that Gen Z will continue the trend of decreasing life expectancy, although members of Gen Z are still too young to project their expected lifespan. This is disappointing, given the fact that Zoomers generally use drugs at lower rates than older generations. Although fewer Zoomers may be using drugs, the drugs they do use may be deadlier than ever thanks to the increasing prevalence of synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.
Fentanyl is found in many powdered drugs, including cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines. Gen Z’s shortened life expectancy may bear a correlation with the substance’s increasingly common prevalence in illicit drugs. It’s not uncommon for drugs to be laced with fentanyl due to its affordability, accessibility, and strong potential for addiction. In recent years, some counterfeit prescription drugs have even been reformulated and made with fentanyl in order to reduce costs and increase potency. Gen Z, who is more likely to abuse prescription drugs than other substances, is especially vulnerable to overdose deaths caused by this phenomenon.
How Different Drugs Affect Life Expectancy
Different drugs impact the body in unique ways, and some are certainly more dangerous than others. Although any drug can be abused or have addictive potential, some have higher rates of use-related fatalities. See what drugs are the least and most likely to have an impact on your lifespan.
According to research, 17.9% of people in the U.S. who are over the age of 12 use marijuana. This makes it the most commonly used illicit drug, and it also creates the false impression that there are no risks associated with consumption. Indeed, marijuana can have many therapeutic uses, but its potential for abuse and danger cannot be overlooked. This is especially true when it comes to smoking. The risks of cigarettes are well-documented — smokers have an average life expectancy of 13 years less than nonsmokers — but emerging research indicates that smoking marijuana may pose a similar threat to health.
Long-term effects of smoking marijuana include respiratory ailments, higher rates of psychiatric issues, and an increased likelihood of cognitive difficulties. Additionally, at least one study explicitly links heavy marijuana use to a heightened risk of death. This is likely due to the correlation between smoking marijuana and cancer, pulmonary disease, and cardiovascular disease — all of which will dramatically decrease a person’s life expectancy rate.
Cocaine is often characterized as a harmless party drug, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. In addition to the aforementioned risk of fentanyl contamination, cocaine can stay in your body long after you’ve discontinued use. These factors contribute to its role in increased mortality rates associated with its use. Between 2014 and 2020, cocaine-related deaths nearly quadrupled, rising from 5,419 to 19,447. This spike in deaths will likely coincide with a decrease in life expectancy that may affect people across every generation.
Some research suggests that a single incident of cocaine use can shorten a person’s life by 6.6 hours. This figure is alarming, but it’s even more concerning when coupled with the fact that, as of 2021, cocaine use is on the rise for the first time in five years. If this trend of increased cocaine use continues to climb, you can expect that life expectancy rates will continue to decline — especially as overdose deaths from fentanyl-laced cocaine are a persistent problem. People of all ages must be aware of cocaine’s addictive potential and lethal possibilities.
Opioids are the most addictive drug — and the most dangerous. This class of narcotics is defined by its unique ability to intercept pain signals that are sent to the opioid receptors in the brain and throughout the body. This makes it an incredibly potent painkiller, but it also makes it prime for abuse and addiction, which has escalated to the point of an epidemic in the last decade. Unsurprisingly, people who are dependent on opioids will see a much shorter lifespan than those who are not. According to research, an 18-year-old opioid addict will likely only live to be 47.5 years old.
This figure, of course, is decades shorter than the life expectancy of somebody who doesn’t use opioids. Opioids can come in many forms — heroin, OxyContin, and fentanyl are just a few examples — but they will all take years off of your life if you develop an addiction. Research indicates that opioid overdoses have shortened the general population’s life expectancy by 2.5 months. Although this epidemic continues to claim lives, prescriptions are declining, offering hope that addiction and overdose rates may soon decline, too.
Methamphetamines pose a grave danger to a user’s life. One study conducted in Australia found that the drug costs users who die from an overdose an average of 44 years off their lifespan. Other research says that once a person is addicted, their life expectancy will only be about seven more years. These statistics illustrate just how deadly methamphetamines can be, and unfortunately, deaths from this drug have increased by nearly 300% from 2015 to 2019. This is likely due to the increased availability of the drug in many parts of the U.S.
This problem has grown increasingly troublesome in rural areas. Methamphetamine use is more common in these areas, and rural people often deal with additional disadvantages that may further contribute to a shortened lifespan. A lack of healthcare resources, insufficient social support, and higher rates of poverty can all emerge as comorbidities alongside high rates of methamphetamine addiction. New research indicates that drugs such as bupropion and naltrexone may be effective aids in overcoming meth use, though, indicating that there may be new options for recovery in the future.
Don’t Let Addiction Take Years Off of Your Life
If you are battling substance abuse and addiction, you know that it can eat up days, weeks, and months of your life. If you don’t get help, those months can turn into years as your life is prematurely cut short. You don’t have to be a victim of this fate, though — you can overcome addiction and discover healing through a comprehensive treatment program. Clean Recovery Centers is dedicated to empowering people like you to break free from addiction in the greater Tampa, FL area. Reach out to us online or call us at (813) 548-5154 to learn more about our program.