teens vs middle-aged

an op-ed from the NYT

21 million binge drinkers (those downing five or more drinks on one occasion in the previous month), double the number among teenagers and college students combined, according to the government’s National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health.

•370,000 people treated in hospital emergency rooms for abusing illegal drugs in 2005, with overdose rates for heroin, cocaine, pharmaceuticals and drugs mixed with alcohol far higher than among teenagers.

•More than half of all new H.I.V./AIDS diagnoses in 2005 were given to middle-aged Americans, up from less than one-third a decade ago, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

What experts label “adolescent risk taking” is really baby boomer risk taking. It’s true that 30 years ago, the riskiest age group for violent death was 15 to 24. But those same boomers continue to suffer high rates of addiction and other ills throughout middle age, while later generations of teenagers are better behaved. Today, the age group most at risk for violent death is 40 to 49, including illegal-drug death rates five times higher than for teenagers.

Strangely, the experts never mention even more damning new “discoveries” about the middle-aged brain, like the 2004 study of scans by Harvard researchers revealing declines in key memory and learning genes that become significant by age 40. In reality, human brains are highly adaptive. Both teenagers and adults display a wide variety of attitudes and behaviors derived from individual conditions and choices, not harsh biological determinism. There’s no “typical teenager” any more than there’s a “typical” 45-year-old.

read it all here… 

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