Older Addicts Make Room for Sobriety
Using lushly decorated accommodations, a recovering alcoholic runs detox homes.
by: Liz Balmaseda | from: AARP VIVA | Winter 2010
En español | You could say that Boris González leads a double life. He's the son of one of Spain's most famous wine-producing families - and a recovering alcoholic. He owns a beachside boutique hotel in Florida's Vero Beach, wining and dining guests in a lushly appointed setting - and he runs treatment centers specializing in older addicts.
Despite these apparent contradictions, he's a man with one mission: to expand the scope of addiction programs beyond the standard 28-day stint to a two-year process that can help addicts stay sober. With this in mind, he's designed five recovery residences with a look toward a more in-depth and comfortable approach to helping addicts turn their lives around. The core of the residents consists of well-to-do, educated, overworked baby boomers.
González, who is a 51-year-old businessman with a designer's flair, decorated the homes with the same eye for detail used in his hotel, the Caribbean Court. (And to help pay the centers' bills, he uses at least 10 percent of hotel profits.) Photos of Cuba and González Bypass - the Jerez, Spain, headquarters of his family's wine and spirits enterprise - dot the walls of the Plantation Home and Villa Mizner, two of the signature homes. Residents dwell among vintage furniture and sleep on crisp, luxurious linens. The deluxe factor is by design, a gesture toward more upscale clients who may not otherwise opt for a sober-living residence. Such centers, González says, aim to help recovering addicts transition back into mainstream society.
And there are many who need that assistance. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that illicit drug use among adults in their 50s has increased by more than 60 percent - a figure that Dr. Barbara Krantz, CEO of the Hanley Center, a recovery facility in West Palm Beach, calls "a global public health crisis" - and predicts the need for treatment among addicts age 50 and older will double by 2020.
"My family has been making wine since 1835. I grew up around alcohol, so it was as if you spend your life hearing that distilled water is good for you, then one day somebody tells you it's bad for you."
- Franco Vogt
Older addicts are notoriously difficult to treat, say the experts at the Hanley Center, which last year launched its Freedom Program for Boomers. That generation is coming to recovery sicker and addicted to multiple substances, making detox a far more complicated process. "Boomers take pain medication even if they don't have any pain," says Juan Harris, director of Hanley's Older Adult Recovery program, referring to addicts' dependence on drugs even when there are no symptoms. Harris and other addiction recovery doctors say that boomers are more impatient than other addicts and often seek quick-fix solutions, self-diagnose and self-medicate. Their substance of choice? Anything from surreptitiously obtained prescription drugs to heroin to Chardonnay.
González is driven by his own frenzied years of work and excess, followed by a difficult struggle to kick his dependence on his drug of choice: alcohol. The Cuba-born son of wealthy exiled parents - Cuban citizens who have deep Spanish roots - knows about the challenges that addicts can face. "My family has been making wine since 1835. I had a hard time getting sober," he says. "I grew up around alcohol, so it was as if you spend your life hearing that distilled water is good for you, then one day somebody tells you it's bad for you."
When I got out of law school, I got sober. I went to a treatment center, and it saved my life," he says. "But that was a 30-day crash course in recovery." He soon discovered that staying sober can often take more time, so he established his first recovery home in 1990. The centerpiece of the five González Recovery Residences is a sprawling plantation-style mansion that sits along the banks of Indian River, located where, as a wild youth, González partied at keg bashes. Now 21 years into his sobriety, he says, "What I've tried to do is create clean, comfortable homes where recovering addicts don't feel as displaced from the comforts of their lives, where they can live with dignity."
One such resident, a 50-year-old Latina professional, has blossomed during the longer recovery period. The residences, she says, provided the "safe, structured environment" she needed to "feel my feelings while attending meetings, exercising, eating healthy and being in fellowship with other like-minded individuals." The residents follow the guidelines of 12-step programs, which include a process to help addicts and others with behavioral disorders in the recovery process.
"Boris is committed to living the 12 steps, and part of that means giving it away every day," says the patient, who asked to remain anonymous in keeping with the 12-step traditions. Giving it away, she says, means sharing his knowledge, experience and survival strategies. "He understands that this is an illness that needs to be managed, and he provides his clients with access to the tools to help them live without mind-altering substances.... The need for places like this is tremendous."
González's residences are a lifesaver for addicts and their loved ones too. Addiction, González notes, touches most families. "There are so many people out there who are not getting sober," he says. "Society is putting a Band-Aid on a hemorrhage."
González invites others to follow his example. If businesses and other segments of society got involved in finding solutions, he says, fewer addicts would relapse. Meanwhile, he's helping, one addict at a time.
It is not uncommon for people to need more than a 30 or 60 day program to replace the habits of drug and alcohol abuse that they have spent years, often decades, developing. While one can make great strides coming to grips with one’s addiction or learning about healthy ways of dealing with “triggers” and stress in short programs, it is no surprise to most that many addicts/alcoholics require help far longer.
While short term programs can be easily fit into schedules, rehab long term programs require a much larger investment and feature a correspondingly higher success rate. Individuals considering rehab long term are often those who have either relapsed after short term treatments or are unwilling to even take that chance. Rehab long term allows clients to make lasting connections in the local sober community (including with a sponsor), start anew in a safe supportive environment, and make large strides towards becoming the person that he/she genuinely wants to be. When considering seeking help for yourself or a loved one, consider whether gambling sobriety on a short term treatment is worth the convenience or whether rehab long term is what is objectively needed.