The issue of AA and the older alcoholic--both
those in the Fellowship and those still drinking--has been discussed
for decades. Nowadays, though, more attention is being paid to the
subject. Discussions revolve around two main points: how AA can be a
resource for older alcoholics, and how older AA members may have
particular issues relating to their sobriety.
indication of growing interest in the
subject, the First Annual Sober Over Sixty
Conference took place in Kona, Hawaii, this
past May. The four-day event had sessions on
"Finding Sobriety After Sixty," "Coping with
Chronological Challenges," and "Senior,
Sober a While, Now What?"
Annual International Seniors In Sobriety
Conference will be held in Yuma, AZ, March 14-17
at the Hilton Garden Inn.
Attendance at the
conference was 140, including 39 speakers.
"We had nurses and other health care
providers who were looking for information
about A.A.'s program of recovery for
patients who might have drinking problems,"
says Marion B., who chaired the event.
"Sometimes it's only
after someone retires that the problems with
alcohol come on," says Marion. "I joined the
program of Alcoholics Anonymous at the age
...In the past 17 years I have experienced
the greatest joy, peace, serenity and
happiness, despite coping with the
challenges of being chronologically gifted."
She and others active in
this area of service bring A.A. meetings
into retirement communities and
assisted-living facilities. "We'll start a
meeting anywhere. People at the conference
were hungry for information on how to get
such meetings going."
Marion points to the
general denial surrounding drinking problems
among the elderly. "Alcohol problems among
older people are often mistaken for other
conditions associated with the aging
process. Uncle Joe is taken to the hospital
with a broken arm, but nobody bothers to
wonder whether Joe might have hurt himself
because he had been drinking," she says
"Some family members
may say of their older relations, 'oh, let them drink.' But it's
a grave mistake to believe that older persons have little to
gain from alcoholism treatment."
Marion points to an A.A. member she knew who
passed away at 89, after six years of sobriety in Alcoholics
Anonymous. "He had shared that his years in A.A. were the best in
Marion, who started a sober over sixty meeting in
the town where she lives in Hawaii, says that "people sober for many
years may drift away from meetings when meetings don't address
issues they now care about particularly."
"Wayne G., an A.A. member in Sedona, Arizona, is
the chairman of next year's Sober Over Sixty Conference, which will
be held in Sedona. "I am 65 and don't consider myself old, though
they say that old is always 10 years ahead of where you are."
Nevertheless, he says, "the SOS Conference in Hawaii was very
comfortable. There were people there from their 50s to their 80s.
There are issues particular to those who are older in Alcoholics
Anonymous. If you are retired, for instance, you have more
time on your hands, and you have to acclimate.
"How do we deal with
our mental and physical limitations as we get older, and how
does that affect our sobriety? How do we ask for help, which is
always difficult from some alcoholics, and it may get more
difficult as we get older...
Someone in a wheelchair at a meeting said he had
a hard time asking when he needed someone to push that wheelchair."
In both Phoenix and in Prescott, Arizona, several
A.A. meetings for seniors in sobriety have recently been started,"
says Wayne, and "they're doing very well."
According to the 2004 A.A. Membership
Survey, 16% of A.A. members are at least 61 years old. Twenty-three
percent are age 51 through 60.
Response to the growing interest in the subject
of A.A. and the elderly is showing up in A.A.'s service structure.
According to Michael M., an A.A. member from California who chairs a
standing committee for Cooperation With the Elder Community for Area
9 (Mid-Southern California), evidence of this increased interest is
"In addition to the Cooperation with the Elder
Community standing committee (in Area 17 Hawaii), which was the
first, there are approximately eight district level Cooperation With
the Elder Community committees within Area 9, and that number is
increasing all the time," says Michael. "Area 3 in Arizona just
voted in an area level Cooperation With the Elder Community Ad Hoc
There are Seniors in
Sobriety and Sober Over Sixty meetings springing up all over the
country, from Colorado to New York, to Florida.
"A large number of people at our area level
believed that elders should come under the auspices of the Special
Needs Committee. We said that the process of aging was not a special
need but a 'universal phase of life,' with its own blessings and
challenges. We believe we're here to stay."
Reprinted with permission from "Box 459: News and Notes from the
General Service office of A.A." Vol.52, No. 5 / October-November
2006, page 7