Alcoholism is not just a problem of youth. According to an 8/17/09 report in the American Journal of Psychiatry, 14% of men and 3% of women age 65 and older admitted to binge drinking (5 drinks or more on one occasion within the last month). I frequently see residents with lifelong addiction problems in the nursing home, and often their sobriety began with their admission to the facility. Early sobriety, particularly when dictated by outside forces, can be very difficult, leaving residents vulnerable to the underlying depression they were self-medicating with alcohol. Many residents with long-term sobriety but no Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) recovery have behavior problems that could be successfully addressed in the meetings, as do mentally ill residents with a dual diagnosis of substance abuse.
Hospitals, churches, and community centers around the country regularly host AA and other 12-Step meetings, but I've yet to hear of a nursing home that does. I think they all should, for the following reasons:
· AA meetings establish a positive peer group for potentially difficult residents.
· Residents take responsibility for their own behavior, reducing the need for staff monitoring.
· Residents have an additional source of support from the group and from each other.
· Residents have a way to connect with the outside world, reducing their sense of confinement.
· For residents expected to be discharged, a connection to AA meetings and community members in the nursing home facilitates their transition back to the community.
· Staff members have a resource to which they can direct their residents in need.
· Staff members, some of whom may suffer from alcoholism themselves or in their families, become aware of a source of support, even if they don’t attend meetings in the facility.
· The nursing home increases its visibility and potential referral base in the community.
· There is no charge for AA meetings; in fact, the meetings often pay a small rent for the meeting space.
· AA meetings are easy to establish. Just contact AA, let them know you have a meeting space to offer, and they will do the rest.