We have long expected to see increasing substance use in middle and later life with the aging of baby boomers—a demographic that traditionally had a more relaxed attitude to substance use. A recent study funded by the National Institute on Aging reveals the unexpected enormity of the problem and its disastrous consequences for a generation of Americans.

In an article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Princeton University economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton (who won last year’s Nobel prize in economics for his research on poverty) identified an anomalous trend of increased all-cause mortality among white non-Hispanic, middle-aged (ages 45-55) Americans between 1999 and 2013 that appears mainly attributable to the devastating impact of substance use and emotional distress. Drug and alcohol poisonings and suicides accounted for most of the increased mortality; death from chronic liver diseases, which are associated with alcohol abuse, also rose in this population.... 

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