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High Concentration of “Soothing” Seniors Contributes to Top Booziest City Ranking

David Lawrence Center Can Help

– By David Schimmel, CEO – David Lawrence Center –

April is National Alcohol Awareness Month and serves as an opportunity to raise awareness of alcohol abuse and encourage people to make healthy, safe choices. As Collier County’s only comprehensive, not-for-profit mental health and substance abuse treatment facility serving children, adults, families and seniors, the David Lawrence Center’s goal is to educate the community on the risks, facts and treatment options available for alcohol abuse and addiction. For more information about the David Lawrence Center, call 239-455-8500 or visit www.DavidLawrenceCenter.org.

Alcoholism in Collier County is unfortunately far too common and, when applied to the national average, will affect one in nine of us. But according to the 2010 health risk data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Naples-Marco Island drinks more than the national average. Their statistics showed that of the 200 communities surveyed, we ranked second for heavy drinking. In another recent, headline making study, the 2011 U.S. News and World Report ranked three Florida cities in the top 10 for being the “booziest cities” including Naples-Marco Island, Palm Bay-Melbourne and Cape Coral. So what’s the correlation? They’re all cities that have far more senior citizens than the national average.

In order to comprehend the implications of being one of the top “booziest cities”, it is important to know the difference between alcohol dependence, abuse and problem drinking. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol dependence is an extremely harmful and chronic condition. Alcoholics are both physically and psychologically dependent, endure frequent cravings, have very little control of their drinking and develop tolerance. Tolerance means that, over time, drinkers need more and more alcohol to reach the “highs” they seek.

Researchers suggest that alcohol dependent people have a genetic risk factor. However, environmental stressors need to trigger the genetic predisposition for the syndrome to occur. Alcohol abusers frequently get drunk, mix alcohol with drugs, become belligerent, disoriented, and dangerous to themselves and others. Problem drinking refers to consumption levels of more than two drinks a day for men and more than one drink daily for women.

When we take a deeper look at how problem drinking can affect the high numbers of senior citizens in Southwest Florida – a place filled with what appears to be the “happily ever after” pictures of retirees, transplanted northerners and empty-nesters – what we see is that these transitions to retirement and aging carry with them a series of potential stressors.

Some retired couples in our area reflect earlier traditional marriages between a working husband and a stay-at-home wife and mother. Many times these couples struggle to redefine their relationships, to enjoy their increased time together and companionship, develop new interests together or singly, and reshape a more romantic togetherness. In addition to relationship issues, the growing ranks of baby boomer duos, where both spouses have had careers, may be mourning the loss of a lifestyle with co-workers, goals and achievements that no longer exists. As seniors become more physically frail, more dependent on others for basic needs, or if a spouse passes away, this can present an entirely different set of stresses. Importantly, since 2008, our seniors have additional financial worries they never anticipated. Some have concerns their savings will run out, they may have to return to work and won’t be able to carry out their retirement dreams.

Working through any of these situations is tough enough – alone or in good relationships – and the temptation to simply “soothe” is compelling. We can all picture at least one person we know with the following unhealthy habits: the retired golfer who spends his afternoon drinking in the clubhouse and passes out on the couch every night watching TV; the woman who takes her antidepressants along with a chilled white wine at lunch, dinner and bedtime; or the widower who finds solace only in being alone and dulling the pain of loss with a few too many drinks. These scenarios are not benign and can worsen with each passing year.

As drinking increases in seniors, it can greatly interfere with prescription medications, impair already slowing reflexes and cognitive abilities, and affect their ability to drive and remember. In fact, using alcohol to soothe can become very dangerous, if not deadly.

The first step to helping a soothing senior you know is to talk to them. As a concerned spouse, neighbor, friend, clergy or family member, you can help them by offering advice and suggesting they seek help. Help can come in many forms such as seeing a mental health professional, attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting or joining a support group. Taking one of these brave first steps can help someone regain control of their life, give them hope and help them find happiness so they can achieve what’s possible.

For those seniors who need help with the harmful affects of self soothing, the David Lawrence Center, the leading provider of mental health and substance abuse services in Southwest Florida, can help. The Center’s comprehensive, compassionate and innovative services create an environment where people are inspired and empowered toward life-changing wellness.

Throughout the month of April, David Lawrence Center is offering free anonymous alcohol screenings where you can talk privately with mental health professional and receive information about local resources. Those who need further evaluation will receive treatment referrals and recommendations. The special offer, free alcohol screenings are available by appointment at the David Lawrence Center Horseshoe Drive Satellite Office located at 2806 South Horseshoe Drive in Naples.

You must mention this special offer when you call 239-455-8500 ext. 2209 to schedule the screening.
Visit DavidLawrenceCenter.org for more information.

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