A woman enters my office disheveled, thin, mid forties, with hollow eyes. It is as if the sparkle in her eyes ceased to exist a very long time ago. She tells me she has been drinking and is using methamphetamines. I am not surprised to hear this because lately my practice has been filled with middle aged baby boomers seeking help for their serious addictions. Whether it is alcohol, cocaine, crack, methamphetamines, pain killers, heroine, or smoking marijuana, many have crossed the line into addiction. Their lives have become unmanageable and they have lost their ability to control their use. Some believe they can just cut down, but as addiction specialists, we know it is impossible once you have crossed that invisible line into dependency. One of their defense mechanisms is “denial” so they can still continue their love affair with drugs or alcohol. Addiction is the only disease that tells them in the most insidious of ways, “I don’t have a problem or disease.” It can be very difficult treating someone who doesn’t think they have a problem. However, on some level this particular woman who landed in my office may already know an issue exists, but can’t bare to admit it.
So what brings this middle aged woman into see me with such desperation on her face? Her husband has told her if she doesn’t stop using, he will leave her and take the children with him. She tells me she can’t imagine not using meth. “It gives me energy to deal with my four kids and keeps my weight down.” I am sure it might be hard to believe that someone in middle age, a soccer mom and a wife feels this way. It is no longer teenagers or urban minorities taking the lead, although there still is an epidemic of young addicts out there. These all American business men, stay at home moms, career women and even the elderly are filling the treatment centers and therapists offices and some, never make it. In a recent study, it was revealed that drug deaths from illicit drug over doses had risen 800 per cent since 1980. One of the fastest growing abuses is pain killers with suburbia filled with these individuals. It has long been known that there are many reasons for the abuse, but for the middle aged the reasons may be not only the genetic predisposition, but as a buffer to numb the pain of divorce, un-employment, an empty nest, retirement, trauma or illness. Depression may be one of the biggest culprits to addiction, with it being the highest amongst the ages of 45 to 60.
The “free love” generation of “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll” has taken a turn; many would have never expected drug addiction to be their legacy. Often long standing drug abusers find when the marijuana stops working; they often go to stronger drugs. For some it is losing their children, a job, a spouse, or homelessness that leads them to seek help.
If you think you have a problem or know someone who does, contact a therapist, psychiatrist, and or chemical dependency counselor to assess the problem. You can also call one of your local alcohol or narcotics anonymous offices for resources. There are 12 step meetings going on all day every day. However, if the addiction or alcohol abuse is serious enough, a detox, a residential treatment center, or a dual diagnosis program may be the best treatment. A dual diagnosis program works with patients who have not only an addiction, but a mental illness, as well. The detox may be medically necessary and should always be assessed and treated. Some of the signs of chemical dependency include tolerance, which is a need for increased amounts of the substance to get the desired effect, withdrawal symptoms, a persistent desire to cut down or control the substance but can’t, spending lots of time obtaining the substance, continued use despite psychological or physical problems. And finally, social, occupational, and or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of the substance use.
There are many professionals out there to help. Just like the women who entered my office confused and ambivalent, a first step was taken in her battling the disease and beginning the recovery process.
A graduate of USC, Sherry Gaba, LCSW, is a Licensed Psychotherapist and Life Coach who specializes in alcohol and drug abuse, divorce issues, single parent support, couples, families, and adolescents. Her website is www.sgabatherapy.com and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 818-756-3338. She has offices in Agoura Hills, California.