Treatment for Baby Boomers’ Substance Abuse

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has predicted that the need for substance abuse treatment services for Baby Boomers will double by the year 2020 because Substance Abuse Among Baby Boomers is On The Rise. That’s just eight years away, and it’s really not a very long time in the scheme of things.

The question becomes, what can be done to help Baby Boomers who need treatment to overcome substance abuse today? This is especially important if the boomer happens to be in your immediate family. It may be your spouse or your parent, or even your child, if you are the elderly parent of the boomer.

  • Consider an intervention – If your loved one who is a Baby Boomer is resistant to the idea of accepting treatment, you may wish to consider a professional intervention as a means of convincing him or her that treatment is the best option. Enlist the support and participation of other close family members, as well as friends, and definitely make the call to obtain a trained interventionist to handle this possibly life-saving intervention. Make sure that you look for a board certified interventionist.
  • Consider residential treatment – Whether or not you need to use an interventionist to get your loved one into treatment, you will need to make arrangements for the treatment itself. For many Baby Boomers trying to overcome substance abuse, a residential treatment facility is the best option. After initial screening, a personalized treatment plan will be created for the boomer, and will consist of education about substance abuse, learning how to recognize and identify triggers to using, learning methods of coping with cravings and urges to use, and considerable time spent on relapse prevention. One-on-one counseling, group counseling, and possibly prescription medications to assist in lessening anxiety and/or depression may be utilized. Private insurance may cover most of the residential treatment for the Baby Boomer, or there may be financial assistance available through federal, state or local programs.

Relapse Prevention

What happens during the relapse prevention phase of treatment for Baby Boomers as they are overcoming substance abuse? According to SAMHSA, a successful relapse prevention treatment approach utilizes the cognitive-behavioral and self-management intervention in a counselor-led treatment setting to help older adults overcome substance use disorders. Treatment modules should consist of the following:

  • An analysis of substance use behavior – The first module consists of having the individual learn how to analyze their behavior by looking at their substance abuse behavior patterns what prompted it, the behaviors themselves, and the consequences associated with that behavior.
  • Learning how to manage social pressure – Refusal skills are an important method for individuals to use when social pressures create high-risk situations for substance abuse relapse. Here the objective is to teach the individual how to control their behaviors while still being able to socialize.
  • How to manage situations at home and alone – Learning how to cope with boredom and loneliness and manage leisure time is taught in this module.
  • How to manage negative thoughts and emotions associated with substance abuse – This module teaches the individual how to recognize repetitive thoughts and negative self-talk, how to interrupt those negative patterns, and to find ways other than substance abuse to cope with mood changes.
  • How to manage anxiety and tension – It’s important that the individual learn how to manage feelings of anxiety, ways to avoid situations that produce these feelings, as well as skills on how to reduce those feelings.
  • How to manage anger and frustration – The importance of using assertive behavior to handle feelings of frustration and anger are taught in this module.
  • How to control substance abuse cues – This involves recognizing personal substance abuse cues as well as practicing skills on how to avoid those cues.
  • How to cope with urges – Here the individual learns that urges last for various periods, have a beginning and an end, even during abstinence; can be waited out; become weaker and end sooner each time they are resisted; and become easier to resist each time they are successfully managed.
  • Preventing a slip from becoming a relapse – One slip doesn’t have to lead to a relapse, negative self-talk can be replaced with positive self-talk, and self-management skills and requests for help can be used to avoid a relapse.

How Long Will It Take and Will Treatment Be Effective?

A natural question that anyone would have is whether treatment for substance abuse will be successful. Along with that is how long will it take. The answer depends on the individual’s particular situation. How long has he or she been abusing drugs and/or alcohol? What is her or her drug of choice? Are there medical conditions or mental health disorder also present? Is there a family history of drug or alcohol abuse? These are just a few of the screening questions that help the professionals at the treatment facility create a tailored treatment plan to help the Baby Boomer overcome substance abuse.

Some individuals may do well in a 30-day or short-term treatment program while others with chronic substance abuse may need a treatment program lasting 60 days or even longer. Aftercare or continuing care programs are also important to help ensure long-term effective sobriety. Family programs can help others in the household learn how to support the Baby Boomer post-treatment as he or she begins recovery.

There is, however, no guarantee that treatment for substance abuse will be effective with Baby Boomers just as there’s no guarantee that treatment will work for any other age individual. What is known is that without treatment, substance abuse will only worsen. So, too, will the complications and consequences associated with substance abuse, and this is particularly true with older adults.

It is also a fact that just getting detoxed, coming clean from alcohol or drugs (or both), is not enough. You can’t just dry out and expect that everything is going to be fine from this day forward. Without counseling and education to learn how to manage stresses and life changes without self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, the cycle will continue to be repeated. That’s why it’s important that the Baby Boomer who goes into treatment remain in treatment after detox. The only way treatment will be able to prove effective for the boomer is if he or she stays in the program that’s been tailored for him or her through completion.

Following treatment, participation in self-help groups, peer-support groups, and family support and encouragement are recommended for the Baby Boomer to maintain sobriety.

Substance abuse among Baby Boomers is indeed growing. But this doesn’t have to be a foregone conclusion or result in tragedy. Treatment can help.