A Guide To Understanding And Helping Seniors Overcome Substance Use Disorders

A Guide To Understanding And Helping Seniors Overcome Substance Use Disorders

Seniors and Addiction

Addiction to drugs or alcohol can occur at any age. For seniors, the signs of addiction can be different than those seen in younger adults. Many seniors are misdiagnosed, as drug or alcohol addiction can look much like a health-related issue instead. It is best to look at each person suffering from addiction and develops a treatment plan that will meet their needs, no matter where they are on the age spectrum.

Prevalence of Seniors Addicted to Substances

The number of seniors addicted to drugs or alcohol is higher than many people expect. According to a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “Drug Abuse Warning Network data indicate that on an average day, there were over 2,000 drug-related ER visits for older adults.

Of these, nearly 300 involved illegal drug use, non-medical use of pharmaceuticals, or use of alcohol combined with other drugs”. This number continues to rise as seniors are not getting adequate treatment for addiction or education around the consequences of mixing medications with alcohol or other drugs.

Reasons Seniors Might Use Drugs or Alcohol

The reasons seniors might turn to drugs or alcohol are universal. Many recovery facilities treat seniors who began using substances out of loneliness after a loss of a spouse, siblings or friends. Seniors are at a higher risk for isolation, and this can bring out addictive behavior in some individuals. As navigating life becomes more difficult, some turn to drugs or alcohol for comfort. Like other adults, some seniors become addicted to prescription pain killers and don’t know how to stop or even realize they have an addiction to overcome.

What Drug or Alcohol Addiction Looks Like with Seniors

Drug or alcohol addiction among seniors generally has a subtler appearance. While a working adult might struggle getting to work each day or show signs of physical health problems, an older adult doesn’t generally have a tight schedule to keep. Drug or alcohol addiction signs can be easier to miss, as older adults are also showing signs of deteriorating health because of age.

Signs that a senior is struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction include:

    • Habitual drinking that is a routine that can’t be broken.
    • Drinking at home alone or using substances in private. Using medications off-label and requiring additional prescriptions. A senior may state that a pain medication has been lost or stolen in an effort to get more.
    • Newly developed depression or a lack of interest in regular activities. While loss of ability can lead to a lack of interest in participating in activities, so can substance abuse.
    • Frequent trips to medical providers complaining of pain that does not have an identifiable source.
    • Chronic use of sleep aids or tranquilizers.
    • Getting intoxicated despite serious prescription medication warnings.
    • Confusion or memory loss that comes and goes with no clear reason why.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. reports that trouble coping with changes, children moving out, and no longer having a job are significant factors that can result in addictive behavior in seniors. Memory loss, confusion, depression and mood changes can all be signs that an addiction is active. For seniors, the same symptoms that can indicate an alcohol or drug addiction can also indicate an early development of dementia or other cognitive issues.

Why Drug or Alcohol Addiction Is Often Misdiagnosed in Seniors

Drug or alcohol addiction is often misdiagnosed because the symptoms look like other health conditions one would expect to see in a senior. In addition, seniors are less likely to report significant alcohol consumption or to admit to abusing illegal substances. Although “6-11% of elderly hospital admissions are a result of alcohol or drug problems”, it can be difficult to pinpoint which cases these are. Seniors who go to the doctor frequently for complaints that have no identifiable cause should be screened for alcohol or drug addiction, yet not many are. Lack of training in the signs of addiction in seniors will lead many health care providers to diagnose issues with dementia, memory loss, diabetes, or depression without getting to the root cause that is addiction.

When a Senior Needs Addiction Treatment

There are times when a senior is going to need addiction treatment in order to stop abusing substances. The goal for anyone struggling with addiction is the same, to stop relying on drugs or alcohol to begin living a healthier life. The treatment should be empathetic, with a clear message that addiction can be treated no matter the age of the person.

Some treatment providers don’t focus on addiction with seniors with the thought that it’s too late for treatment or it is not worth treating seniors for addiction. This is not fair for seniors who have an addiction that can be treated, as the quality of life for them can greatly improve. It doesn’t matter how much time a person may have left, as the quality of life should matter the most.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “While substance abuse in older adults often goes unrecognized and therefore untreated, research indicates that currently available addiction treatment programs can be as effective for them as younger adults.” It is important not to minimize the effects of substance abuse on the overall wellness of an individual, no matter what age they are. Treatment for addiction in seniors is both effective and important, giving seniors a better chance at living a healthy life.

How Treatment is Provided for Senior Substance Abuse

Any senior who comes forward wanting help for an addiction should be treated with empathy and respect. The communication should be clear and look at the variety of issues a senior may regularly face. It is when you take into consideration the way in which you communicate with an elderly individual and how you present topics, that treatment will be a different.

It is important to rule out any medical causes of the symptoms that are present. Substance abuse may not be the answer to a senior’s complaints of pain, confusion or depression. The loss of a spouse, job, or no longer being able to drive can all lead a one down a path of depression that is not caused by substance abuse. Careful evaluation is necessary to rule out underlying health problems in conjunction with screening for substance abuse issues.

Like anyone who is struggling with an addiction, seniors will benefit from a supportive atmosphere. When clients are able to talk about their struggles with addiction openly in a professional, empathetic atmosphere, true recovery can occur. It isn’t easy to admit you struggle with an addiction, but the help you find at a professional treatment center is worth taking the risk. Through peer support and learning relapse prevention strategies, seniors can withdraw safely from substances and move forward in their lives in a healthier way. Education around safe practices is important for anyone who needs help with addiction, but particularly true for seniors who may need a number of prescription medications to control health conditions.

When seniors learn about the effects drugs or alcohol are having on their cognition or physical abilities, they are better able to make sound decisions around drug or alcohol use. Some seniors start drinking “to take the edge off” without realizing their behavior is out of their control. Education can go a long way in helping a senior who has an addiction better understand what is going on with their health when they abuse substances.

Treatment Begins with Supervised Detox

The first step in any recovery program for seniors is to detox safely from the drugs or alcohol. This can be more complicated for seniors, who are overall less healthy than younger people and more susceptible to harsh symptoms of withdrawal. While people of any age experience withdrawal symptoms, the effects can be more detrimental for a senior who is trying to withdraw from substances.

After detox, it’s important to continue working on the emotional and behavioral pieces of addiction to gain a better handle on sobriety as a whole. A senior may be surprised to learn that they have an addiction and may not have realized the danger they were putting themselves in by mixing certain medications with alcohol.

Treatment providers are not always clear with seniors regarding medications and alcohol consumption. The thought that it’s too late for help is prevalent among treatment for seniors and is not the best way to manage addiction.

Medication interactions with both alcohol and illegal substances are a common reason for emergency room visits, especially for those who take more than one type of medication. Individual therapy is always recommended for anyone who struggles with addiction. Therapy provides seniors with a person to talk to who is going to have a neutral position when it comes to their substance use issues.

While a senior may have trouble talking to a family member or friend about their addiction, a therapist is easier to talk to. Seniors need to have a safe person to talk to when it comes to an addiction and treatment.

Treatment for addiction in seniors is not only possible, it is essential to the health and well-being of those living with addiction who are older. The best facilities offer seniors a safe, supportive environment to learn more about addiction and withdraw from substances effectively.

The treatment involves working closely with a counselor, attending group sessions, and learning about the effects that drugs or alcohol can have on the mind and body. Through a careful look at personal habits and attitudes, it is possible to recover from addiction no matter what age an individual is.

Accreditations You Can Trust

Dr. Venice Sanchez

Ph.D., LMFT

Clinical Outreach Specialist, Europe Division

Dr. Sanchez works closely with Truvida Recovery patients regarding substance abuse and related mental illnesses and creates a supportive, cooperative and informed therapeutic environment. Her areas of expertise include Substance Dependence, Dual Diagnosis, Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, Generalized anxiety disorder, Panic Disorder, Bereavement, Acute stress disorder, and more. Ms Sanchez has extensive training with experts in the field of Substance Abuse, and mood and thought disorders underlying the substance use. She received a Bachelor’s degree from University of California, Los Angeles and Medical Degree from Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. She continues training at the UC Irvine Psychiatry Residency Program and has been recognized with the Outstanding Resident of the Year Award.

Jaime Askew

LMFT, LPCC

Clinical Director

Ms. Askew is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor who has been working in the field treating substance abuse and mental health issues for over twenty years.  She obtained a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology, with an emphasis in Marriage, Family, & Child Counseling from Pepperdine University and was among the first to obtain the LPCC license in the state of California.  She has been providing clinical supervision and training to interns, conducting workshops, and is a certified Trauma therapy trainer.  Her areas of expertise include working with legal issues, court ordered treatment, family preservation, trauma therapy, cognitive behavior therapy, family systems, social skills training, play therapy, and career/ vocational counseling.  Her passion is in advocating for at risk populations, holistic healing, and treating the underlying, core issues to help individuals achieve their maximum potential and happiness.  Jaime’s extensive experience and passionate leadership is of extreme importance to the overall TruVida clinical program, and her hands-on guidance of our clinical team insures that each patient is receiving optimal therapeutic treatment and care.

John Biroc

Consulting Psychologist

Dr. Biroc has a broad base of mental health and addiction recovery training and experience. He has supervised and taught therapists in various methodologies of effectively working with groups and individuals during therapy. He created and set up new group structures and trained staff in understanding the challenges of addiction recovery. He also helped develop curricula in Sociodrama and Psychodrama. Dr. Biroc is devoted to breaking paradigms that prevent progress in the path to lasting recovery. He is a member of the Nat’l Association of Marriage and Family therapists, and has a Ph.D. degree in Psychology, and a M.S. degree in Counseling from USC.

Dr. Nader Siahdohoni

Consulting Psychologist

Ph.D.

Dr. Nader is one our esteemed consulting Psychologists who provides our Clients with various breakthrough therapy’s that focus the functional systems including neurons, neurotransmitters, and certain brain waves that enable the way we think, behave, move, feel, and maintain homeostasis. Such therapy’s include NeuroMax neurofeedback, the state of art integrated technology in Neurofeedback, combinations of wireless Electroencephalogram (EEG), real time brain mapping and a unique and exceptional neuropathway therapy called “Visual Concentration Attention Therapy (VCAT)”. Dr Nader graduated from Walden University.

Tiffany Agra

Therapist

LMFT #103693

Ms. Agra is a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist, who has been working with individuals, couples, families, and groups for the past seven years. Her other therapeutic approaches include Narrative Therapy, Family Systems Theory, Psychodynamic dream interpretation, and Gestalt Psychology. She has also been a Guest Speaker at other organizations. This unique background has made her effective at helping clients overcome the grip of substance addiction. Tiffany obtained two Bachelor’s degrees from the University of California, Davis, and her Master’s degree from the California State University, Long Beach. She has worked for both the county of Orange and Riverside, helping those who struggle with addiction and mental illness. In addition to providing evidenced-based approaches to the clinical program at Truvida Recovery, she brings her compassion as a fellow addict in recovery; living proof that we do get better!

Deborah Wieland

Therapist

MS, LMFT #96864

Ms. Wieland is an Eclectic EMDR Therapist, using R-TEP and G-TEP, and specializes in several modalities in treating Substance Use issues, Dual Diagnosis, Complex Trauma, and Severe Mental illness. Deborah also provides several types of therapy such as Psychodynamic, Rogerian, CBT, DBT, IFS, PICT, MI, Grief Recovery, Sand Tray, and Attachment Theory to help her patients achieve mental wellness and a sober lifestyle.

She has worked with Psychiatric Hospitals providing crisis interventions and psychotherapy to those struggling with substance abuse issues, mental health issues, and domestic violence. She completed her undergraduate and graduate studies at Vanguard University of Southern California. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, Summa Cum Laude and a Master of Science in Clinical Psychology. She is currently completing her Doctoral studies in Clinical Psychology at Cal Southern University. Deborah is an active member of EMDRIA, California Association Marriage Family Therapist (CAMFT), American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC), and Psi Chi International Honors Society of Psychology.

Ashley McLaughlin

Therapist

LMFT

Ms. McLaughlin is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in EMDR therapy. She brings over ten years of experience working in the field of addiction to the Truvida Team. She obtained a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology, with an emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy from Pepperdine University and has two Bachelor’s degrees in Psychology and Economics from University of California, San Diego. Ms. McLaughlin was trained in EMDR in 2013 and since has been helping individuals process through past traumatic experiences that have contributed to current struggles with substance abuse and mental health symptoms. Her extensive experience and passion for this field has helped guide individuals through the process of recovery in order to experience freedom from their past and a hope for their future.

Travis Taylor

Therapist

LMFT

Mr. Taylor is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in  Drug Abuse & Addiction,  PTSD, Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, Borderline Personality, Codependency, Coping Skills, Depression, Dual Diagnosis. Taylor uses an integrative approach geared towards understanding self, specifically what drives one’s thoughts and behaviors. He excels in helping patients identify automatic thoughts that lead to specific feelings and undesired actions. Another useful approach stems from understanding how thoughts and behaviors are fueled by former messages that have been consistently reinforced. Travis has over 6 years of therapeutic practice and obtained a Master’s degree at Vanguard University.

Kat Johnson

AOD Counselor, Group Facilitator

With almost 10 years experience working at treatment centers, Kat Johnson shares her wisdom and passion for balanced living, creative writing, and meditation and how each plays a role in early recovery and beyond. Certified as a CADC II, and supported by a bachelors in psychology, Kat’s infectious energy brings her groups to life. She is grateful for every opportunity to spread health and wellness.

Paige A. Chastain

AOD Counselor, Case Manager

Ms. Chastain has dedicated her life to helping the suffering addict/alcoholic, bringing personal experience to both individual substance abuse and group counseling settings. She has worked in the field of addiction for several years, currently working as an addiction counselor and case manager.  Paige too, is a collaborative member of the multi-disciplinary team providing excellence in addiction services, working with clients from detox to intensive outpatient levels of care. She holds a strong skill-set in Psychoeducation, Motivational Interviewing and Dialectical Behavior Therapy.  She also has extensive experience with 12-step recovery programs. Paige is passionate about treating the client with empathy, compassion and respect throughout the client’s journey.  Paige holds an AA from Saddleback College, a BA from the University of California of Irvine and is a certified CADC-I holding memberships with CCAPP and NAADAC.

Lesley Richards

AOD Counselor, Interventionist

Ms. Richards began in this field of healthcare as a volunteer for substance abuse treatment centers and worked her way up from there. Lesley has dedicated her life to helping the suffering addict. it is here strong belief that everyone deserves to have the opportunity to have a safe and sober life.  She is very compassionate about her work as an addiction counselor, and has a strong commitment in helping patients struggling with addiction in developing healthy coping mechanisms, and developing new positive behavioral habits.  Her Group counseling sessions are highly sought after within the TruVida program.  Lesley is a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC), National Certified Intervention Professional (NCIP), Nationally Certified Recovery Coach (NCRC), and is a member of the California Consortium of Addiction programs (CCAP), as well as the International Association of Addiction Professionals.

Christine Green

Treatment Facilitator

Christine Green is a certified personal trainer, and yoga instructor. Ms. Green is dedicated to helping patients struggling with substance abuse transform their lives through a consciousness-based approach to body-in-motion fitness.

Christine passionately shares her 18 years experience with our clients by sharing her specialized Yoga & Energy Healing Program, which she has developed over the past 8 years of working directly with addicts and alcoholics. Her Yoga program facilitates integration of all the layers of life – environmental, physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual with the primary initial goal of overcoming withdrawal symptoms and cravings from drug and alcohol dependency. TruVida is fortunate to have her as part of the team.

Allison Goode

Art in Recovery Counselor

Allison Goode is a lifelong resident of Laguna Beach and professional artist for over 15 years, and has developed a very successful and trans-formative Art in Recovery program in treatment facilities through out California. Her passion for the fine arts and helping others recover from substance abuse addiction is contagious. Allison has a unique ability to connect with clients through the creative process helping clients set positive goals for their recovery. Ms. Goode has studied Fine Art and Graphic Design at Laguna College of Art and Design, is a certified RADT1 technician, and is currently completing her CCAPP certification program.

Thomas Mladinich

Admissions Manager

Mr. Mladinich hard work ethic and dedication make him a key part of the TruVida team. Tom’s ability to connect and relate with others have allowed him to excel as admissions manager. His personal experience has allowed him to proudly serve those in need of recovery from addiction. Tom is eager to work with our clients and provide the experience, strength and hope that they need to find success in recovery.

Willie Sanchez

Operations Manager

Mr. Sanchez is a self-motivated professional with a positive attitude. He is actively involved in a 12 step fellowship. He effectively contributes to each Patient with their struggles with addiction. Willie is RADT1 certified counselor and has been educated at Long Beach City College.

Jose Flores

Program Manager

Mr. Flores is a highly motivated and hardworking team member with TruVida. He has several years of experience working in treatment helping individuals get back on track, achieving a lot of great results. He brings problem solving skills and experience to use everyday, and is proud and passionate about his profession as a RADT-I program manager.