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Age and Alcohol Part III – Recovery – Keystone Elder Law – Mechanicsburg, PA

Mention recovery from alcoholism, and Alcoholics Anonymous is probably one of the first methods that comes to mind.  There are many different paths to recovery, however, and appropriate guidance to determine which path to choose can be integral to the success of the recovery process.  A more thorough investigation into the fact patterns surrounding physical complaints, observed behavior, and suspected alcohol use may be necessary when working with older adults compared to younger people.  Older adults naturally have a longer life history, which creates the opportunity for a wider variety of experiences to influence current personal attitudes, lifestyle choices, and general functioning.  Older adults are also more likely to have underlying disease processes, take more medications, and be experiencing significant life changes such as retirement or the loss of loved ones; all of which are important to consider in recovery.    

Kristin Noecker of the RASE Project stresses that alcoholism is a lifestyle disease, and that an individual must make changes to his/her lifestyle for recovery to take place.  Historically, the focus has been on initiating professional treatment for alcoholism, and less attention has been paid to how individuals would develop and maintain necessary lifestyle changes after treatment was completed.  Currently, the concept of recovery capital is considered an essential factor in the recovery process.  Recovery capital is the internal and external resources that are available to an individual to assist in recovery.  Internal resources include motivation for change, hope, self-confidence, and a sense of value and belonging in society.  Examples of external resources are stability in housing, employment, and finances; educational opportunities; and recreational activities.

Logic will tell us that the individuals who possess a greater number of these resources are likely to experience greater success in recovery.  Some people may already have these resources in place when they begin professional treatment and/or recovery.  But what happens to those who don’t?   Larry Davidson, in his article “The Role of Recovery Capital” (2010) states, “…those who have lost – or who never really had – adequate recovery capital will first have to acquire some amount of internal and external resources before being able to take up the challenge of recovery in a fully effective and sustained way.”  This acquisition of resources can be accomplished through participation in recovery support services, which are long-term services designed to help people build and maintain recovery capital.

Long-term supports are key for individuals and families in recovery because recovery is not a single event but an ongoing process.  Yes, you read the previous sentence correctly, families require recovery also. The nature of addiction and substance abuse make it more than just an individual condition, and while family members benefit from support services, Ms. Noecker has discovered through experience that they are often reluctant to participate.  I mentioned in an earlier article that the concern and involvement of family and friends is an important factor in the recovery of older adults.  The complexity of addiction requires education and support for family members and friends in order for everyone to experience increased success in the recovery process.

If you or a loved one believe that alcohol may be having undesirable effects on your health, relationships, or lifestyle, here are some resources to consider:

  • Your personal physician
  • SAMHSA (Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration) national hotline at
  • 1-800-662-4357 (available 24 hours/day, 365 days/year)
  • Alcoholics Anonymous
  • The RASE Project (Substance abuse recovery and peer support) Phone:  717-249-6499
  • National Institute of Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism
  • Cumberland/Perry Drug and Alcohol Commission  Phone:  717 240-6100

Karen Kaslow, RN