Why Every Nursing Home Should Host Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) Meetings

Posted by Dr. El - August 18, 2009 - Depression/Mental illness/Substance Abuse, Resident education/Support groups - 7 Comments

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 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.
Find out more about Alcoholics Anonymous here.

7 comments

  • Sue Samek says:

    Eleanor, It seems like a no brainer, what are the arguments against having AA meetings in nursing homes?

  • Dr. Eleanor Barbera says:

    I'm glad you asked, Sue. I suspect some people are misinformed about AA meetings and worry that a bunch of hooligans will come into the facility. The reality is that bringing in a group of sober, community-conscious individuals dedicated to helping others with their common problem of alcoholism can be an essential resource to residents struggling with their sobriety and can reduce problems in the facility.

    I really feel for people trying to remain sober in nursing homes, often after a lifetime of drinking, coping with all the losses and stresses of illness and nursing home life. I try to do what I can, but I'm just one woman with an AA Big Book. It would be so much better if I could send them downstairs to meet with their fellow alcoholics once or twice a week.

  • Mary says:

    What a wonderful suggestion. Certainly the folks in the home would have a very difficult time getting their otherwise.

  • Dr. El says:

    Mary, I suppose the facility could hire a van to take a group of residents to meetings in the community on a regular basis, but it would be a lot easier and better for community relations to bring the community to the nursing home.

  • […] in new, beneficial activities such as exercise, healthy eating, smoking cessation groups, and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings (you’ve got alcoholics in your community, trust me). Engage your new residents from Day One […]

  • Bridget says:

    I am one of many who volunteer to answer phones at our area AA chapters 24/7 phones and just received a call from a nursing home asking to arrange a meeting to be brought in. I had never thought of it, but it IS a wonderful idea. I started searching and came across this while waiting for our office manager to come in today. I look forward to following up with this call.

    • Dr. El says:

      Bridget, I’m so glad to hear of a nursing home calling AA to arrange an on-site meeting. How great for them to have their call met by a volunteer who’s enthusiastic and supportive of the idea. I hope the meeting flourishes.

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