The Trainspotting Generation Grows—and Cleans—Up
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The Trainspotting Generation Grows—and Cleans—Up


If Mark Renton, Sick Boy and the rest of the Trainspotting crew were real and still alive today, they’d be well into middle age, like 55-year-old author Irvine Welsh himself. Scotland’s favorite junkies and other graduates of the 80s punk scene have grown up—and some of them are finally cleaning up, too. A new survey by the Scottish Drugs Misuse Databasehas revealed that 26% of the people who sought initial assessment for drug addiction treatment in 2012-13 were over 40 years old.

Young Scots and the Sauce

By comparison, back in 2006-2007, just 15% of Scots seeking rehab were over 40. And over the same period of time, the percentage of treatment seekers over 30 has risen from 50% to about two-thirds. Yet the total proportion of the population pursuing drug treatment has remained relatively stable since 2009. So in terms of raw numbers, fewer young people are getting help than they were six years ago. That might not seem like a good thing—in the US, such a shift might indicate that young people just can’t afford treatment because it’s so damn expensive on our side of the pond.

Scotland and Drugs: Now and Then

However, the Scottish data suggest a different reason for the drop in youth seeking help for drugs—fewer of them need it. The report showed that while heroin was still the most popular drug across all age groups (followed by cannabis and Valium), the number of people under 25 who report using heroin has been falling. In short, we’re seeing improvement between generations as well as within the generation immortalized in Welsh’s novels.

Five years ago, Scotland’s drug stats were, in a word, grim. Simply being Scottish meant you were 15% more likely to die than if you were English or Welsh, and drugs were at the root of the problem. Drug-related deaths rose 26% from 2007 to 2008, with the biggest surge in men over 35. Scotland is home to some 50,000 heroin addicts. There’s something about Scotland that makes heroin especially appealing, especially in the would-be working class: a culture of desperation that favors dangerous, depressive highs. And overdose was just one way to go—many acquired HIV and Hepatitis C from the needles they were forced to share when law enforcement made it harder to access them.

Old Folks Getting Clean, Young Folks Staying Clean

But some of this same cohort survived—and now they’re lining up for treatment. The middle-aged addicts seeking rehab are the survivors of this lost generation. As one Scottish government spokesperson said, “In Scotland, we are dealing with a long legacy of drug use and while this is declining among young people and the general adult population, we know there is a vulnerable group of people who have been using drugs for many years. It is therefore encouraging to see that there is an increase in the number of older drug users engaging in treatment to support their recovery.”

Irvine Welsh has already written a sequel to Trainspotting called Porno. Maybe to complete the trilogy, the characters can reconvene once more for Rehab?

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About Author

Erica Larsen AKA Eren Harris blogs at Whitney Calls and Clean Bright Day. Their writing has also been published on Salon, Selfish, Violet Rising and YourTango. They live in Los Angeles with their husband and their enormous cat.