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Older Adults: Dual Diagnosis Resource Guide


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This guide covers key practice areas for practitioners working with older adults who have a dual diagnosis – a co-occurring alcohol and other drug (AOD) use and mental health problem. The guide has been produced in response to increasing calls from services for information on working with people aged 55 years and older with a dual diagnosis. Research literature and clinical experience both indicate how complex dual diagnosis can be, and this is further complicated by the ageing of the baby boomer generation which will bring a more complex dual diagnosis profile. Within mental health, those aged 55-64 are still in adult services and can present with complex issues. In the coming years they are likely to present in aged psychiatry (and other related services) with a more complex profile. Primary care services are also important for identifying and responding to service users with a dual diagnosis as many older adults also access these services for physical health care. What’s in the guide: The guide has five practice topics: 1. What about older adults and dual diagnosis? 2. Screening and assessment 3. Biomedical interventions 4. Psychosocial interventions 5. For carers
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Older Adults
Dual Diagnosis
Resource Guide
BUDDHAS - Building Up Dual Diagnosis in
Holistic Aged Services
Developed by the Victorian Dual Diagnosis Initiative
November 2015
Written by: Paul Hurnall, Dr Kah-Seong Loke, Dr Kathleen Ryan, Katherine Walsh, Lara Jackson, Dr Stephen
This project also represents an important collaboration with Peninsula Drug and Alcohol Program, Older Wiser
Living Service, St Vincent's Aged Mental Health Service, Banyule Community Health Service, and cohealth.
Thanks also to the VDDI managers for enabling staff to contribute to the development of the manual. Thanks
to Glen Davis (cohealth) for initial contributions to editing and to Maria Yap and Lara Jackson. Special thanks to
Dr Caroline Clark who provided substantial and final edits. Thanks to Gary Croton for always keeping everyone
up to date on issues related to older adults, AOD use and dual diagnosis.
Creative Commons
You are free to share and adapt the content as per the creative commons license provided the VDDI is
acknowledged, under the following conditions:
Attribution - You must attribute the work to the VDDI but not in any way that suggests that the
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Non-commercial - You may not use this work for commercial purposes.
Share Alike - If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work
only under the same or similar license to this one.
BUDDHAS Older Adults Dual Diagnosis Resource Guide
Table of contents
Introduction ...................................................................................................................................... 1
What’s important in dual diagnosis and older people .............................................................................. 1
1. What about older adults and dual diagnosis? ................................................................................ 2
Why should we care about dual diagnosis in older adults? ...................................................................... 2
What does dual diagnosis look like in older age? .................................................................................... 3
Trends in older adults’ use of alcohol and other drugs ............................................................................ 3
Alcohol: physical and mental health risks for older people ...................................................................... 4
Benzodiazepines: dual diagnosis population .......................................................................................... 5
Elder abuse and AOD use ................................................................................................................... 6
2. Screening and assessment ............................................................................................................ 7
Why should we screen and assess for dual diagnosis? ............................................................................ 7
Screening and assessment challenges .................................................................................................. 7
Helpful approaches ............................................................................................................................ 7
AOD and MH screening and assessment with older adults ....................................................................... 8
Domains of comprehensive assessment for older adults ......................................................................... 9
Summary of screens .........................................................................................................................10
Screening tools for alcohol problems ...................................................................................................10
Screening tool for alcohol and other drugs problems .............................................................................11
Screens for drugs other than alcohol ...................................................................................................11
Mental health screening ....................................................................................................................12
3. Biomedical interventions ............................................................................................................. 13
General factors to consider ................................................................................................................13
Alcohol ............................................................................................................................................13
Benzodiazepines ...............................................................................................................................13
4. Psychosocial interventions .......................................................................................................... 15
Principles of treatment ......................................................................................................................15
The change process ..........................................................................................................................15
Brief interventions ............................................................................................................................17
Harm reduction ................................................................................................................................17
Relapse prevention ...........................................................................................................................18
Psychotherapy .................................................................................................................................18
Specialist AOD services for older adults ...............................................................................................19
Mental health services for older adults ................................................................................................19
5. For carers .................................................................................................................................... 20
What does a carer do? ......................................................................................................................20
Working with the mental health system ...............................................................................................20
How best to support a person with a dual diagnosis ..............................................................................21
Carer self-care .................................................................................................................................22
Appendix 1. Suggestions for using the ASSIST with older adults who have a mental illness ........... 24
Appendix 2: Identifying drug-related harm and strategies to reduce harm ..................................... 25
Identifying drug-related harm ............................................................................................................25
Strategies for reducing drug-related harm ...........................................................................................25
Resources and references ............................................................................................................... 26
Resources: organisations ...................................................................................................................26
Written resources .................................................................................. Error! Bookmark not defined.
References cited ...............................................................................................................................29
BUDDHAS Older Adults Dual Diagnosis Resource Guide
What’s important in dual
diagnosis and older people
This guide covers key practice areas for
practitioners working with older adults who have a
dual diagnosis a co-occurring alcohol and other
drug (AOD) use and mental health problem.
The guide has been produced in response to
increasing calls from services for information on
working with people aged 55 years and older with
a dual diagnosis. Research literature and clinical
experience both indicate how complex dual
diagnosis can be, and this is further complicated by
the ageing of the baby boomer generation which
will bring a more complex dual diagnosis profile.
Within mental health, those aged 55-64 are still in
adult services and can present with complex
issues. In the coming years they are likely to
present in aged psychiatry (and other related
services) with a more complex profile [1]. Primary
care services are also important for identifying and
responding to service users with a dual diagnosis
as many older adults also access these services for
physical health care.
What’s in the guide
The guide has five practice topics:
1. What about older adults and dual
2. Screening and assessment
3. Biomedical interventions
4. Psychosocial interventions
5. For carers
Where possible, the information provided is specific
to older adults with a dual diagnosis. Nevertheless,
as this is a developing field, general dual diagnosis
information (usually based on research with
adults) is provided, as is information on AOD use
and mental health issues among older adults that
might not necessarily be in the context of dual
We don’t yet know a great deal about a broad
range of interventions for dual diagnosis, let alone
older adults with dual diagnosis; what we do know
is that, considering complexity and various impacts
on those experiencing these issues, providing
integrated treatment for people with a dual
diagnosis is standard good practice. Other aspects
of good practice are recognition of problems via
routine screening and assessment, taking a
strengths focus, being welcoming and engendering
hope, and fostering social connection to promote
recovery. We know that change can happen it’s
never too late.
Who it’s for
This guide is intended to guide and support
practice in working with those who are aged 55
and older with ‘dual diagnosis’. It is intended as an
adjunct to professional, inter-collegial and where
appropriate supervised practice, and is not meant
to replace professional judgement.
We encourage clinicians working with older adults
to further develop their interest, knowledge and
skills in working with older adults with dual
diagnosis. Clinicians should be curious and ask
questions regarding the use of a range of
substances and a variety of mental health
concerns. The objective of the guide is to provide
an overview of screening, assessment and
interventions for older adults with a dual diagnosis.
While practice is discussed in the context of
Victorian service systems and legal frameworks,
the broader points are relevant for practitioners
working in other places.
Where it’s come from
The guide has been developed by the special
interest group Building Up Dual Diagnosis Holistic
Aged Service ‘BUDDHAS’ – many of whose
members work in the teams that make up the
statewide Victorian Dual Diagnosis Initiative
(VDDI). It represents the collective practice
wisdom of the group and is based on recent
evidence regarding older adults and dual diagnosis
and good practice in this area.
BUDDHAS aims to provide direction in the
development of dual diagnosis service delivery to
aged persons services in Victoria. BUDDHAS is
committed to the improvement of health outcomes
for aged persons with co-occurring mental health-
AOD use problems, through establishing a
coordinated service delivery approach.
About the VDDI
The Victorian Dual Diagnosis Initiative (VDDI) is a
cross-sector (alcohol and other drug, mental health
community support and clinical mental health)
initiative funded by the Victorian Department of
Health & Human Services. The VDDI’s role is to
contribute to the further development of mental
health and AOD workers’, agencies’ and sectors’
capacity to recognise and respond effectively to
people experiencing co-occurring mental health
and AOD use concerns (‘dual diagnosis’).
BUDDHAS Older Adults Dual Diagnosis Resource Guide
1. What about older adults and dual diagnosis?
The ‘baby boomer’ generation (those born between
1946 and 1964) is growing older people born in
1946 turned 65 in 2011 and this generation is
more likely to have alcohol or other drug problems
than previous ones. This is one of the reasons
attention is turning to older adults with a dual
Why should we care about
dual diagnosis in older
Impacts of dual diagnosis in older
The impacts that older adults with a dual diagnosis
are likely to experience will be different from those
that younger people do: these include decreased
tolerance, increase in adverse interactions with
medications, and increased risk of falls, injuries
and suicide.
Older people have the highest suicide risk of all
age groups, and there is an association between
alcohol consumption and suicide in older people, as
well as some evidence that risk of suicide
associated with alcohol dependence increases with
age. Comorbid depression and alcohol problems
present a particular risk. When depression
worsens, alcohol use often increases and because
alcohol lowers impulse control, risk of suicide
increases [2]. Similarly, the disinhibiting effects of
benzodiazepines increase the risk for suicide (in
one study, benzodiazepines were involved in 39%
of drug poisoning suicides in the elderly [3]).
The National Health and Medical Research Council’s
2009 Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks
from Drinking Alcohol identify older adults as a
particular risk group when it comes to drinking
(this is for levels of drinking above the ‘light to
moderate’ amounts that are possibly protective for
some chronic conditions that are prevalent in older
age [4]).
Dual diagnosis looks different in
older people
What we know about younger adults does not
always apply to the older population. There are
several age-specific factors that increase an older
adult’s likelihood of experiencing both problematic
AOD use and mental disorders: retirement, loss of
mobility and associated independence, medical
illness, grief, social isolation, and identity issues
and role confusion.
Older adults can be vulnerable simply because of
their stage of life. In relation to AOD use, older
adults tend to:
use for different reasons, such as relief from
grief or pain
use in different ways, e.g. at home, and daily.
This can include sharing medications with
friends to relieve symptoms they have in
common, which can lead to problems of taking
medications that have not been prescribed and
could be contraindicated
feel shame which holds them back from
seeking help for AOD use problems
At the same time, we know that older adults with
AOD use problems, or with dual diagnosis, do well
in treatment.
More problems as baby boomers age
Compared with the previous generation of older
adults, a larger proportion of baby boomers have
AOD use and mental health issues. They also hold
more liberal attitudes towards alcohol, prescription
medicines and illicit drugs, and use them at higher
rates. (In one study, some adults aged 55-64 had
a history of injecting drugs, while none aged 65
years or older did [1].) Therefore, increased rates
of associated problems can be expected, leading to
rising demand on services by older people with
complex presentations, including current drug use
problems and dual diagnosis.
There is however little research into older adults
current and/or previous use of illicit drugs and the
implications of this. And there is even less research
that focuses on drug use in the context of mental
illness in this age group. The research that does
exist suggests that among baby boomers there is
probably more AOD use, and greater variety of
drugs used, along with continuing use. This means
we can anticipate:
higher rates of dual diagnosis, due to ongoing
AOD use and problems, than in the previous
generation of older adults
residual effects from illicit drug use when they
were younger, such as acquired brain injury
and blood-borne viruses
Myths and misconceptions about
older people with dual diagnosis
Common myths and misconceptions about dual
diagnosis in older people mean that problems are
not recognised and treatment is seen as futile. This
can impede successful treatment.
BUDDHAS Older Adults Dual Diagnosis Resource Guide
Treating older adults is too hard. Anyway, is it
These are some common misconceptions about
older people which can hinder provision of
Drug use is temporary and linked with a
current stressor or physical health complaint
(insomnia, pain, increased anxiety, grief or
loss issue)
Medications cannot be addictive or cause other
problems because they have been medically
prescribed or are available ‘over the counter’
Alcohol cannot be a problem because ‘alcohol
is good for heart disease’
Older clients are too old to change their ways
or patterns of behaviour; they are
Treatment is not warranted in older age ‘let
them enjoy their last days’ – although people
may live for years and decades yet
In fact, older people may be easier to treat
Contrary to common belief, older people can be
easier to treat: they are more likely to have stable
housing, regular income, long term relationships
with others and be linked with a general
practitioner who knows them well. In addition,
they often have better insight into what does or
doesn’t work for them.
What does dual diagnosis
look like in older age?
Signs and symptoms linked to dual diagnosis are
different across the lifespan. They will also change
over time as there are changes in treatments,
medications and trends in AOD use.
Some of the common signs of dual diagnosis in
older age are:
increased anxiety
unsteady gait and poorer balance
lower mood or significant changes in mood
increased physical health problems and
gastrointestinal problems (particularly with
increased isolation
decreased appetite
increased incontinence
increased falls
poorer memory/ alcoholic blackouts
Trends in older adults’ use of
alcohol and other drugs
Drugs being used
Currently, older Australians are more likely than
the overall adult population to be drinking alcohol
daily. This is despite a greater proportion of people
aged 60 or older not drinking alcohol at all. The
proportion of people drinking at a risky level in the
50-59 and 60-69 age groups is similar to the rate
in the general population, and is much lower in the
70+ age group (see Table 1).
Table 1. Alcohol drinking status, frequency and consumption
among older Australians and all Australian adults, 2013 [5]
Drink daily
drinking (%)*
* at a level to be at risk of alcohol-related harm over a lifetime [4]
Prescription drugs
Numerous large studies (mostly concerning adults)
have shown that dependence on prescription drugs
is prevalent among people with dual diagnosis [6-
8]; in particular, prescription rates of
benzodiazepines among institutionalised elderly
patients are high.
Elderly people may have easier access to
prescription opioids: use of these drugs by older
people is less stigmatised than other opiates, and
being bought on prescription reduces costs
(especially for those with Pensioner Concession
Cards or Seniors Health Cards).
As in the population as a whole, cannabis is the
most widely used illicit drug among older adults
[5]. Use typically declines throughout adulthood,
although some people start or recommence its use
at an older age for its potentially positive effects
on stress, appetite and pain.
Opioid pharmacotherapy
Australian statistics indicate that, as in other
countries, there is an ageing cohort of people
receiving opioid pharmacotherapy treatment. This
may be due to some clients remaining in treatment
for decades, or clients seeking treatment for the
first time at an older age [9].
BUDDHAS Older Adults Dual Diagnosis Resource Guide
Increasing prevalence of illicit drug
More older people using
The proportion of older adults who are using illicit
drugs has been steadily increasing, while in the
population as a whole prevalence has remained
about the same: the proportion of people in their
50s who had used an illicit drug in the previous 12
months increased from 4% in 1995 to 11% in
2013, and among people 60 and older, from 3% to
6% [5].
Similarly, use of pharmaceuticals for non-medical
purposes has increased more among older adults
than in the whole population [5].
And using more regularly
When we look at how often people currently in
their fifties use illicit drugs, it is approaching the
population average [5]. As this group moves into
their sixties and beyond, this will become more
common in these older age groups.
The same is the case when we look at non-medical
use of pharmaceuticals. While lifetime and last-12-
months use is similar across all age groups, use in
the previous month and in the previous week is
higher among those aged 55 and over [5].
Overall, consumption of alcohol and other drugs
generally declines as people become elderly. As
shown in Table 1 above, while more older people
are daily drinkers (compared with younger people),
at the other end of the spectrum, more are also
Alcohol: physical and mental
health risks for older people
As baby boomers age, it is likely that the rate of
alcohol abuse or dependence in older adults will
Old r adults’ physiology e
Changes in physiology and metabolism mean that
older people are at increased risk of experiencing
alcohol-related harms. Lean body mass reduces, so
that a given amount of alcohol produces an
increase in peak ethanol concentration. Older
people also metabolise alcohol less efficiently, so
effects can occur more abruptly and take longer to
dissipate. This means that cognitive abilities such
as reasoning and memory might be more easily
Effects of alcohol in older adults:
increased neurochemical and neuronal
decreased excitatory phase, quicker entry to
sedative phase with higher peak levels
increased impairment with same blood levels
decreased euphoric effects
decreased capacity to develop tolerance
aggravation of other illness
Risks of harm
Physical health:
increased risks of medical comorbidities such
as hypertension, diabetes and cancer
diuresis and orthostatic hypotension, with
increased risk of falls
myopathy and reduced strength
peripheral neuropathy
cerebellar damage and ataxia
osteoporosis and higher age-adjusted rates of
hip fracture
if use is chronic, liver enzyme induction and
increased drug metabolism
increased falls risk and fractures, with or
without osteoporosis
delirium in withdrawal
Wernicke’s encephalopathy (acute confusion,
incoordination and double vision)
Korsakoff’s syndrome (isolated memory
alcohol-related dementia: global cognitive
impairment, cerebral atrophy
depression: heavy alcohol use and alcohol
dependence are associated with high rates of
sleep disturbance
Risks from concurrent use of alcohol and
other medication
Alcohol use is associated with increased likelihood
of poly-pharmacy, which brings further risks:
interaction of alcohol with prescribed
medications (especially important for drugs
with a narrow therapeutic index such as
effect on drug absorption
delayed gastric emptying, increased small
bowel transit time
low albumin levels and effect on protein
effect on drug metabolism:
o decreased drug metabolism with age
o fluctuating drug clearance (binge
effect on adherence
concurrent dependence on other drugs such as
BUDDHAS Older Adults Dual Diagnosis Resource Guide
Early or late onset of problematic use
of alcohol
Problematic alcohol use in older people is
commonly classified according to whether it is
early-onset and late-onset. Early-onset use is more
common, and refers to drinking problems that
began in the person’s twenties or earlier, and have
progressed and worsened with age. Late-onset
drinking typically begins in the person’s fifties or
later, in reaction to stressful life events such as
divorce, loss, loneliness, trauma, retirement or
illness [10].
The literature on this topic focuses on alcohol but
the insights could be extrapolated to use of other
Early-onset use
People who develop alcohol problems earlier in life
are likely to continue drinking at risky levels. They
make up around two-thirds of presentations, are
mostly males and are more likely to be from lower
socio-economic backgrounds. There is also often a
family history of alcohol dependence.
Older adults with alcohol-related disorders that
developed earlier on in life are more likely to seek
treatment, but are also more likely to present with
more complex medical and psychiatric
comorbidities resulting from the cumulative effects
of drinking over many years.
Older adults with early-onset problem drinking are
at increased risk for a number of conditions:
cognitive deficits from frontal lobe atrophy
which occurs with long-term heavy drinking
postural instability and higher risk of falls from
atrophy in the cerebellum due to long-term
a quadrupled risk of developing functional
impairment due to heavy alcohol consumption
(five or more standard drinks daily)
risk of osteoporosis and dementia from heavy
alcohol consumption
Late-onset use
Late-onset alcohol problems are less common than
early onset ones. Those who present with late-
onset problems are more likely to be female and
have a higher education level and income. They
usually have less marked cognitive deficits and are
more likely to have more social support and better
family relationships. They can experience better
outcomes than those with early-onset problems,
but are less likely to seek treatment due to shame
and lack of information about services [11].
Or is the distinction not so clear?
What might be considered as ‘late onset’ problems
could in fact have been occurring earlier but not
picked up because screening was not routine in
health care and primary care services.
Or is it because older people don’t tolerate
effects of alcohol so well?
Alternatively, perhaps problematic drinking is more
noticeable later in life because as people age they
generally do not tolerate alcohol very well and
experience an increased range of health problems.
Benzodiazepines: dual
diagnosis population
The typical patient with problematic
benzodiazepine use is an older widowed female
with various health problems and psychiatric
symptoms, and who is a frequent user of medical
services [12]. However, the majority of these
patients have never seen a mental health
Effects of benzodiazepines in older
Up to 10% of drug-related hospital admissions in
the elderly are due to benzodiazepine effects and
side-effects, as a result of physical and cognitive
effects of the drugs.
Different effects on older adults
increased sensitivity to side effects
increased sensitivity of benzodiazepine
receptors in the central nervous system (CNS)
increased side effects in those who have used
them regularly over a long period
decreased drug metabolism leading to
prolonged plasma half life
Cognitive effects
anterograde amnesia (loss of the ability to
create new memories), reduced short-term
recall, increased forgetfulness
increased risk with long-acting agents
increased risk of delirium
increased cognitive decline (a risk from long-
term use)
improved functioning on drug cessation
Psychomotor impairment
slow reaction time, decreased speed and
accuracy of motor tasks
increased risk of motor vehicle accidents by
increased risk of falls and increased risk of hip
fractures by 50%
Risk of iatrogenic dependence
Iatrogenic benzodiazepine dependence is a real
concern, and regular medication reviews are
important for older clients.
BUDDHAS Older Adults Dual Diagnosis Resource Guide
Risk of benzodiazepine dependence increases
with age
Dependence is more common in elderly people
medical conditions using multiple medications
depression and alcohol dependence
With the prevalence of insomnia increasing
significantly with age, the risk of benzodiazepine
dependence likewise increases. Dementia,
depression and anxiety syndromes can be a
consequence of benzodiazepine dependence.
Elder abuse and AOD use
As with other forms of violence, the risk of elder
abuse is increased in the context of harmful AOD
use, by both victims and perpetrators.
Besides being at risk of self-neglect, older adults
who drink alcohol at harmful levels are vulnerable
to abuse. Deteriorating physical health, cognitive
impairment and social isolation contribute to this
vulnerability. If their AOD problem is long-
standing, poor family relationships might mean
that family members are unwilling or unable to
provide appropriate care.
A carer or relative using alcohol or other drugs at
harmful levels increases the risk of their being a
perpetrator of elder abuse.
Whether it is victim or perpetrator who is using
AOD at harmful levels, abuse can be physical,
emotional, or financial (financial abuse is
particularly common). The extent of AOD-related
elder abuse is unknown, as it is not a well-
researched area, especially in relation to drugs
other than alcohol [13-16].
BUDDHAS Older Adults Dual Diagnosis Resource Guide
2. Screening and assessment
Why should we screen and
assess for dual diagnosis?
Although routine screening and assessment for
dual diagnosis is warranted, it is not commonly
undertaken, and where it is, is often not done well.
The number of older Australians seeking specific
treatment for mental health and AOD-related
problems is disproportionally low given the
estimated prevalence rates [17]. Even though they
are likely to be in regular contact with a range of
healthcare services which are ideally placed to
conduct screening, they can be reluctant to seek
treatment for AOD problems, and service providers
can be reluctant to ask. Research also indicates
that even where screening for alcohol and drug
issues in older adults (with or without dual
diagnosis) is undertaken, it lacks sensitivity and/or
lacks breadth.
Comprehensive bio-psycho-social
Proper diagnosis requires a comprehensive bio-
psycho-social assessment. Without proper
diagnosis, older AOD users do not receive
adequate interventions. Further, in order to
understand and intervene appropriately with older
adults, an elaborate, person-centred view of
dependence is required.
Presumption of other diseases can result in AOD
use or dual diagnosis being overlooked. Diseases
related to ageing, AOD use and mental health
issues can all mask, mimic and exacerbate each
other, so again, thorough screening and
assessment is essential.
Screening and assessment
Impaired cognition
Consider the impact of cognition on patient’s ability
to answer questions. It may be necessary to take
into account cognitive deficits related to chronic
mental illness and/or possible acquired brain injury
(ABI) resulting from chronic drinking, nutritional
impairment, head injury and/or drug overdoses.
If impaired cognition is present, screening and
assessment might take longer, might require more
than one attempt and might need to be preceded
by assessment of cognitive functioning.
An older person’s history of AOD use might be
quite long, and they might find recalling it more
difficult than a younger person. Therefore the
process might take longer so patience and
perseverance are important.
Shame and guilt about AOD use
There could be guilt and shame which can impact
on disclosure. This means it is important to
proceed sensitively and respectfully. In addition,
older clients might have a fear of being labelled as
illicit drug users [1].
Stigma of mental illness
Mental illness can be stigmatizing for this
population and older people might not understand
what their diagnosis is (if they have one).
Consequently, clients may consider physical
ailments and stress-related diagnoses to be a
‘safer’ and ‘more acceptable’ way of describing or
disclosing what might be mental illness [1].
Similarly, the expression of psychological distress
as physical symptoms (somatisation) may be
culturally sanctioned.
Lack of mobility
Lack of mobility may inhibit older adults from
presenting to services. Consider outreach to
overcome mobility issues and fear of taking the
first step to services.
Helpful approaches
Find the best approach to maintain
We know that welcoming those with a dual
diagnosis into services and providing hope from
the outset is core to effective dual diagnosis
practice. Therefore, the approach to screening and
assessment, especially initiating the conversation,
is of the utmost importance. Engagement can be
preserved by normalising the screening and
assessment process, describing it as routine.
Explore whether a more clinical or a less clinical
approach suits. Some older clients expect a
specialist expert, while others prefer a more casual
approach and value a positive social interaction.
Enlist general practitioners to help
Older adults are more likely to go to a GP than
younger people, which makes GPs well placed to
identify AOD issues in this population. Further,
research shows that older adults are more open to
GPs’ advice regarding risks of continued AOD use,
and that a suggestion to change from a GP is an
BUDDHAS Older Adults Dual Diagnosis Resource Guide
important factor with older adults who have mental
health and AOD use concerns [1]. For these
reasons it makes sense to enlist GPs to screen and
assess their older patients for AOD and mental
health issues.
Older clients tend to be very willing to engage in
dialogue: ‘They seem to value a listening ear, the
witnessing of their experience’ [18, p 20]. With a
listening ear, older adults are interested in talking
about their AOD use history.
Assume older adults seek and can
achieve change
As we saw in Section 1, it is a myth that effort
should not be put into treating older people; in fact
they are as likely to benefit from treatment as
younger people. Contrary to some stereotypes,
research has shown that older adults respond well
to intervention and even those with long-term
alcohol problems may change their drinking if the
risks and negative effects are clearly explained.
Increasing awareness of negative effects of AOD
use can work better for older adults than for
younger people. Ryan [1] found that older people
with dual diagnosis recognised that AOD use (and
withdrawal) impacts negatively on mental health,
and this was a reason they would consider
stopping altogether. Further, older people often
follow treatment regimens more diligently.
Older adults (as many younger people) may not
understand low-risk alcohol intake, and this is an
instance where outlining risks can inspire them to
change their use of alcohol and other drugs. On
the other hand, older adults might already
understand some risks we can check by asking
AOD and MH screening and
assessment with older adults
General points to consider
Where possible use screens appropriate for
older adults
Because older adults are likely to be more sensitive
to the effects of alcohol and other drugs (see
Section 1), their threshold for hazardous and
harmful alcohol consumption is lower.
Further, super-sensitivity relatively low
quantities of alcohol or other drugs can be
problematic for people with an existing mental
illness means that particular care needs to be
taken with screening. Combined with the possibility
of greater sensitivity to effects of alcohol and other
drugs due to age, screening for all substances is
For these reasons it is important, wherever
possible, to use tools that are appropriate and
valid for use among older adults. These are
covered below. Currently, there are not a lot of
Consider history and patterns of use
As discussed in Section 1, patterns of use are likely
to be different in older adults compared with
younger drinkers [18]:
some very long-term use
also late onset use
sharing medications with friends or family
And there are also similarities:
binge (intermittent or pattern)
Older adults may well have addressed their AOD
use in the past, and these previous efforts can
provide the basis for a strengths approach to
future work.
Screen for residual effects
The residual effects of previous long-term AOD use
(for example blood-borne viruses (BBVs) such as
hepatitis C) within the baby boomer population
may become more evident as they grow older.
Prior to the 1990s, awareness of BBVs and
strategies to avoid transmission was low.
Therefore, it makes sense that services should
screen for these residual effects, although there is
no research that indicates screening for residual
effects is occurring routinely.
Consider stage of life
Older adults can be vulnerable simply because of
their stage of life. Consider age-specific factors
that increase an older client’s risk of experiencing
AOD and/or mental disorders: retirement, loss of
mobility or independence, medical illness, grief,
social isolation, and identity/ role confusion. If
these are occurring, consider screening for AOD
and mental health issues. A way to identify such
vulnerabilities is to ask broader questions, such as
how they are using their time.
Variations between ethnic groups and religious
affiliations, along with genetics, are other factors
that need to be taken into consideration regarding
the development of problematic use of alcohol and
other drugs [19].
AOD diagnostic complications
There are also diagnostic complications that are
associated with the nature of AOD use among
older adults.
AOD use and DSM
It is important to note that many older adults who
experience problems associated with their use of
AOD might not meet some DSM-5 criteria for
substance-related and addictive disorders.
BUDDHAS Older Adults Dual Diagnosis Resource Guide
Broader range of substances
Older adults may be using or have used alcohol,
benzodiazepines, cannabis, heroin, opioid
analgesics, over-the-counter medications and
other licit and illicit substances, so broad screening
is required. It is important to remain open to the
possibility that a client might be using and/or have
used a range of alcohol and other drugs, and that
this poses residual and/or current risks. Older
adults are also more likely to be taking (and
possibly sharing) a range of medications. The
interaction of these other drugs with alcohol can
impact negatively on other illnesses, functional
capacity, psychomotor ability and cognition. Again,
this points to the need for broad AOD screening
and explanation of risks related to interaction of
alcohol and other drugs. Specifically ask about
taking and/or sharing a range of alcohol and other
Masking of AOD problems
In older adults alcohol problems can be masked by
other conditions associated with age such as
memory loss, confusion (particularly for those with
dementia), unsteady gait, reduced mobility, poor
co-ordination, falls, depression, mood swings
which can delay recognition of drinking problem so
problems can become more severe [18].
Obtaining collateral information where possible can
shed light on the possibility of AOD problems,
although caregiver complicity (often unwitting) is
always a possibility.
Other signs of AOD problems
Alcohol and other drug problems can lead to self-
neglect, with symptoms such as falls, cognitive and
affective impairment and social withdrawal [20].
Other factors that may suggest problematic use of
alcohol (and to some extent, other drugs):
not attending appointments or completing
unstable or poorly controlled hypertension
recurrent accidents, injuries or falls
frequent visits to the emergency department
gastrointestinal problems including liver
disease, pancreatitis
unexpected delirium during hospital admission
estrangement from family
heightened emotions and aggravated moods
like irritability, depression, anxiety, panic
abnormal blood tests, for example raised liver
enzymes (like GGT) and enlarged red blood
cells (MCV)
Domains of comprehensive
assessment for older adults
The domains for a drug/alcohol/mental health/dual
diagnosis assessment usually include:
family, relationships, isolation
enjoyable and/or meaningful activities,
activities of daily living
employment, retirement
legal issues
history of AOD use (amounts, patterns),
dependence, reasons for use (as a basis for
considering change), assessment of harms (as
a base for harm reduction strategies),
exploration of previous attempts to stop/
modify and relapse prevention strategies used
effects of AOD use on mental health and vice
versa, history of interventions related to
mental health and/or AOD use
stage of change in relation to AOD use and
acknowledgment of mental illness, goals, risk
physical health
cultural and religious affiliations
As well age-related physical-biological risk factors
associated with AOD use, a bio-psycho-social
assessment for older adults needs especially to
consider older adults’ psycho-social risk factors for
AOD and mental disorders:
death of a spouse/ grief
living alone
being isolated
loss of mobility/ independence,
medical illness
retirement identity/ role confusion
Older adults are at particular risk of sleep
disturbances and alcohol use for pain
BUDDHAS Older Adults Dual Diagnosis Resource Guide
Summary of screens
Screening tool
What it measures
Validated for
older population?
ARPS Alcohol-Related
Problems Survey
Identifies low risk,
risky and harmful
alcohol use
A-ARPS Australian
As above
Michigan Alcoholism
Screening Test
Geriatric Form
Identifies harmful
and dependent
alcohol use
Problem alcohol, AOD
AUDIT Alcohol Use
Disorders Identification
Hazardous and
harmful alcohol use
ASSIST Alcohol,
Smoking and Substance
Involvement Screening
Hazardous, harmful
and dependent
alcohol, tobacco &
other drug use
Trialled with over
55s by Ryan [1];
BDEPQ Benzodiazepine
Screening questions for
detecting benzodiazepine
SDS Severity of
Dependence Scale
Severity of
dependence on
GDS-15 Geriatric
Depression Scale
Symptoms of
GAI Geriatric Anxiety
Severity of anxiety
Screening tools for alcohol
The following tools are available in the public
ARPS Alcohol-Related Problems
The Alcohol-Related Problems Survey is a self-
report instrument developed in the United States
in response to the growing need for a screening
measure for older adults. It is a preferred screen
as it has been developed specifically for older
adults and is more sensitive than the SMAST or the
AUDIT (see below) [21]. It can be completed using
pen and paper, and results are processed by
There is an Australian version, the A-APRS, which
has been adapted for Australian standard drink
sizes and brand names of medications, and
formally tested with a group of Australian older
adults [22]. It can be administered using a tablet,
laptop or desktop computer.
The ARPS identifies low risk, risky and harmful
alcohol use. The A-ARPS has been used in the
Older Wiser Lifestyles (OWL) program at Peninsula
Health in Melbourne to screen for problems. The
program provides both early interventions and
treatment according to the level of risk that is
identified in the screen.
The computerized version of the A-ARPS is online
at It takes 10 minutes or
less to complete.
The original American version can be found at:
BUDDHAS Older Adults Dual Diagnosis Resource Guide
SMAST-G Short Michigan
Alcoholism Screening Test Geriatric
The Short Michigan Alcoholism Screening Test
Geriatric Version was the first short-form
alcoholism screening instrument developed that
was tailored to the needs of older adults. As a
version for older adults, it is another preferred
screening tool. It can identify dependence and
harmful alcohol use but it does not identify
hazardous alcohol use.
The test comprises ten questions, with a score of 2
or more ‘yes’ responses indicating an alcohol
problem and the need for a comprehensive
assessment. It is available at:
The CAGE/CAGE-AID is included here because it is
widely used [23] although it is less sensitive for
older adults.
The CAGE acronym is derived from the four
questions of the tool: Cut down, Annoyed, Guilty,
and Eye-opener:
1. Have you ever felt you should cut down on
your drinking?
2. Have people annoyed you by criticizing your
3. Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your
4. Have you ever had a drink first thing in the
morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of
a hangover (eye-opener)?
The CAGE-AID is an adapted version to include
drug use:
1. Have you ever felt you ought to cut down on
your drinking or drug use?
2. Have people annoyed you by criticizing your
drinking or drug use?
3. Have you felt bad or guilty about your drinking
or drug use?
4. Have you ever had a drink or used drugs first
thing in the morning to steady your nerves or
to get rid of a hangover (eye-opener)?
Two or more ‘yes’ answers is considered clinically
significant for the general population. For older
adults, a lower threshold of one positive answer is
recommended because of their increased
sensitivity to alcohol and other drugs.
AUDIT Alcohol Use Disorders
Identification Test
The Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test was
developed by the World Health Organization and is
the gold standard screen for hazardous and
harmful alcohol use. It is included here because of
its widespread use, despite being less sensitive for
older adults, again because of their increased
sensitivity to alcohol and other drugs, as well as
frequency of chronic health problems and
interactions with medications.
The AUDIT has ten items. An abbreviated version,
the AUDIT-C (consumption), uses the first three
questions. Both the AUDIT and AUDIT-C have been
found suitable for detecting hazardous alcohol use
in drinkers aged over 65 [24]. It can be found at
Screening tool for alcohol and
other drugs problems
ASSIST Alcohol, Smoking and
Substance Involvement Screening
The Alcohol, Smoking and Substance Involvement
Screening Test is a brief screening questionnaire
which was developed by the World Health
Organization to screen for hazardous, harmful and
dependent use of alcohol, tobacco and other
psychoactive drugs in primary health care settings.
Although it has been widely tested for validity and
reliability, this has been with adults aged 18-45
and not within mental health settings. Suggestions
for making it more useful for an older population
who may also have mental health problems are
contained in Appendix 1. These are based on an
Australian study which investigated the usefulness
of the ASSIST with adults with a mental illness
aged over 55 [1].
The ASSIST provides a comprehensive AOD use
screen and therefore has the clear advantage for
screening older adults who may have used or are
currently using a broader range of substances than
earlier cohorts of older adults.
The ASSIST generates a risk score for each of ten
different drugs or drug types which is linked to
formal feedback and a brief intervention.
The ASSIST screening tool, brief intervention and
self-help guidelines are available at:
Screens for drugs other than
When it comes to prescription medication abuse,
there are few validated screening instruments for
detecting problems. Two that we can use are the
Benzodiazepine Dependence Questionnaire and the
Severity of Dependence Scale.
BUDDHAS Older Adults Dual Diagnosis Resource Guide
Benzodiazepine screens
BDEPQ Benzodiazepine Dependence
The Benzodiazepine Dependence Questionnaire is a
preferred screen as it has been validated for use
with older people. It measures dependence on
benzodiazepines, and was designed to capture
more than withdrawal symptoms in determining
dependence. The questionnaire has 30 items and is
located at the end of Manual for the
Benzodiazepine Dependence Questionnaire, which
is available at:
ndarc/resources/T.R%20033.pdf .
Screening questions for detecting
benzodiazepine dependence
Also useful are the following two screening
questions [25]:
Over the past 12 months have you noticed any
decrease in the effect of this medication (e.g.
on sleep, sadness, anxiety)?
Have you tried to stop taking this medication?
Unlike the BDEPQ, they have not been tested for
validity and reliability and for this reason are less
SDS Severity of Dependence Scale
The Severity of Dependence Scale provides a score
indicating the severity of psychological dependence
on opioids; the higher the score, the higher the
level of dependence. Specific sensitivity for older
adults has not been shown for the SDS.
Although the SDS was originally developed for
assessing psychological dependence on heroin,
studies have indicated that it is also suitable for
assessing dependence on other illicit drugs, with
different cut-off scores depending on the drug. It
can be found at:
Mental health screening
Regular mental state examination is
recommended, as is screening for other diseases
related to ageing which can be confused with and
complicate mental health and AOD use issues.
There are a number of mental health screens such
as the MINI (Mini International Neuropsychiatric
Interview). The MINI, although not developed for
older adults, has a specific advantage in that it
screens for a wide range of mental health
concerns. An earlier version can be found here:
Other screening tools include:
the Brief Psychiatric Rating Scale
Mental Health Screening Form-III
Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K10)
Although not necessarily standardised for older
adults, these screens can provide indications for
further assessment.
GDS-15 Geriatric Depression Scale
The Geriatric Depression Scale is a depression
assessment tool specifically designed for older
people. Because it is standardised for older adults
it is a preferred screen.
There are four ‘trigger’ questions to alert a
practitioner of the need to complete the 15-item
The GDS can be filled out by the client or
administered by an interviewer. It comprises 15
questions about how the client has felt over the
past week. A score above five suggests depression
and indicates a more thorough clinical
investigation. A score above ten almost always
identifies depression.
The test is further described at
/pdf/gds.pdf and is available at:
GAI Geriatric Anxiety Inventory
The GAI is a short scale for measuring the severity
of anxiety in older people. It has 20 items and can
be self-administered or administered by a
practitioner [26].
It is available at
BUDDHAS Older Adults Dual Diagnosis Resource Guide
3. Biomedical interventions
General factors to consider
Iatrogenic drug problems
Iatrogenic drug problems are the most common
dual diagnosis feature in older people.
Psychological and social interventions should be
the primary interventions where possible, with
medication playing a secondary role.
Close medical monitoring
Closer medical monitoring is appropriate because
of the effects of comorbid physical and mental
illness and possibly frailty as well.
Older adults are more likely than younger adults to
drink alcohol along with taking prescribed
medications, so possible interactions in particular
should be monitored.
Effects of CNS depressants
CNS depressants in general, including alcohol,
benzodiazepines and opioid analgesics, increase
the risk of falls, cognitive impairment and
incontinence, especially in the aged.
Older people who are alcohol-dependent
experience a more protracted and a more severe
withdrawal than younger adults. For this reason
they generally do not make suitable candidates for
home-based withdrawal. Other reasons include a
greater likelihood of medical comorbidity, poly-
pharmacy, increased risk of delirium and social
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms:
Autonomic overactivity
Cognitive and
perceptual changes
Vivid dreams
Medical management
Fluid and electrolyte imbalances should be
initially corrected
Thiamine to prevent Wernicke-Korsakoff
Parenteral thiamine should be given initially
(e.g. 200mg IM BD for 3 days)
Importance of multivitamins and general
supportive care
Psychotropics should be prescribed with caution if
hallucinations are present. Use of benzodiazepines
should be sparing, because of increased sensitivity
to adverse effects. Shorter-acting benzodiazepines
such as oxazepam should be used in preference to
diazepam because of poorer hepatic functioning,
drug interactions and the increased risk of adverse
Relapse prevention
Drugs used for alcohol relapse prevention can
generally be prescribed for elderly patients as well:
Acamprosate may be more safely used in the
elderly, but may be relatively less effective
compared with other medications. Lower
doses are prescribed in those under 60kg
and/or with renal impairment.
Naltrexone may be used if hepatic
impairment and the need for opioid analgesia
are not issues. Liver function should be
monitored after initiation.
Disulfiram is more hazardous in the elderly
because of the increased physical risks
associated with the aldehyde reaction when
alcohol is consumed. It may also precipitate a
confusional state. It can be effective in highly
motivated individuals when it is administered
by another member of the person’s household.
Withdrawal symptoms may be reduced because of
slower clearance of the drug in older people.
Medical management
Short-acting benzodiazepines should be
changed over to a relatively longer acting
benzodiazepine such as oxazepam. Oxazepam
is preferred to diazepam because diazepam
has an active metabolite and an extended
half-life in older people.
Dose reduction should generally be slower
than the rate of 10 to 20% per week that is
recommended for young adults
Relapse prevention
Relapse prevention focuses on addressing
underlying anxiety and/or depressive disorders
with appropriate pharmacological or psychological
therapies. Advice on sleep hygiene, including the
need for fewer hours of sleep in the aged, is
BUDDHAS Older Adults Dual Diagnosis Resource Guide
important where benzodiazepines have been used
long term as a hypnotic.
Other psychological interventions that can be
useful include cognitive behavioural therapy,
mindfulness-based interventions and movement-
based meditation (tai chi) [27].
Prescription drug misuse
Prescription drug misuse is the use of a medication
other than as directed or indicated, including
taking too little or too much of a drug, taking it too
often, or taking it for too long, whether harm
results or not.
BUDDHAS Older Adults Dual Diagnosis Resource Guide
4. Psychosocial interventions
The strong focus on biological factors and
medications for control of symptoms of mental
illness, especially psychotic disorders, sometimes
overshadows important psychosocial aspects. We
know that people with dual diagnosis often face a
wide range of psychosocial issues, and further,
that psychosocial factors are important in
understanding the aetiology of dual diagnosis. We
also know that psychosocial and socio-
environmental aspects of AOD use are important to
clients with mental illness.
Recent research in the AOD field describes how
recovery is socially contagious. Opportunities for
recovery can be grasped, and people around them
can help them take advantage of such
opportunities by increasing resources and supports
during those windows of opportunity to ‘catch’
recovery [28].
Psychological treatment including psycho-
education, counselling and motivational
interviewing can be successful cognitive-
behavioural approaches for reducing or stopping
alcohol or other drug use. This includes teaching
older adults the skills necessary to rebuild social
support networks and use of self-management to
overcome depression, grief and loneliness.
Principles of treatment
Integrated treatment
Providing integrated care is standard good practice
for treating people with a dual diagnosis, because
of the complexity and impacts on those
experiencing these issues. This is no less the case
with older adults with a dual diagnosis.
There are different models for providing integrated
One practitioner might treat mental health and
AOD use issues at the same time, if they are
skilled in both areas
More commonly, practitioners from separate
services in each sector collaborate to provide
integrated treatment
A ‘No Wrong Door’ policy means that whether a
person presents to a mental health or an AOD
service, their dual diagnosis will be addressed:
either within the service or through working with
practitioners in a service in the other sector.
Recovery and strength-based focus
A central tenet of treatment is a strengths focus,
rather than a ‘problem-based’ focus. This means
asking what people have done previously to reduce
or stop their drug use, and assuming that they
might want to
talk about this.
Further, it
assuming that
recovery is
possible, rather
than thinking
that older
clients with a
dual diagnosis
don’t want to
or can’t make
change. A key
feature of
recovery is the value of participation and social
connection for enhancing mental health.
Other principles of treatment
Dual diagnosis work often needs:
assertive outreach
close monitoring to provide structure and
social reinforcement
stage-wise treatment to ensure appropriate
timing of interventions
an individualised approach: older adults are
not all the same
safe and protective living environment is
fundamental to basic quality of life and to the
success of treatment
flexible clinicians and programs
longitudinal perspective
The change process
Communicating hope is part of recovery-oriented
practice. Contrary to some assumptions, it is not
too late for older adults to make changes. We can
assume that they seek change, that change is
possible and that they have made successful
attempts at change in the past. A hopeful stance is
good practice regardless of a client’s age. It is
particularly important for older ages because of
stereotypes that say they are too old to change or
that it doesn’t matter if they change – and they
may believe this themselves.
Stages of change
The change process is complex, heterogeneous
and idiosyncratic, and awareness of an individual’s
stage of change can help to ensure that
approaches are relevant [29]. It is important not
to be too rigid in considering the use of this model.
It is a fluid guide. Teesson and Proudfoot provide a
summary of the evidence base for this model in
dual diagnosis work [30].
It is part of the role of
the practitioner to
maintain a hopeful
Older adults seek
change. They have often
had previous successful
attempts which can
form the basis for future
BUDDHAS Older Adults Dual Diagnosis Resource Guide
There are six stages according to this model: pre-
contemplation, contemplation, preparation, early
action, late action and maintenance. Pre-
contemplation does not mean nothing can be done.
Lapses can occur throughout and usually mean,
with the assistance of relapse prevention, a return
to where the person was. Relapse indicates more
substantial shifts back and requires work to regain
motivation to change.
Stages of change [29]
‘You may think it’s an issue,
but I don’t, and even if I do, I
don’t want to do anything
about it, so don’t bug me.’
‘I am willing to discuss it,
think about it, and consider
whether to change, but I have
no interest in changing, at
least not now.’
‘I am ready to start changing,
but I haven’t started, and
need some help to begin.’
Early action
‘I have already begun to make
changes and need some help
to continue, but I am not
committed to maintenance.’
Late action
‘I am working toward
maintenance but haven’t got
there, and need some help to
get there.’
‘I am stable and I am trying to
stay that way as life throws
challenges at me.’
Motivational interviewing
Motivational interviewing (MI) is an approach for
facilitating movement through the stages of
change, and is worth learning if not already done.
Using the stages of change model and enhancing
motivations towards change regarding AOD use
and insight into mental illness is effective in
treating dual diagnosis.
The following outlines the spirit of motivational
Motivation to change is elicited from the client,
and not imposed
It is the client’s task, not the counsellor’s, to
articulate and resolve ambivalence
Direct persuasion is not an effective method
for resolving ambivalence
The counselling style is generally a quiet and
eliciting one
The counsellor is directive in helping the client
to examine and resolve ambivalence (which
makes MI especially suitable for those in the
contemplation stage)
Readiness to change is a product of
interpersonal interaction and not a trait
The therapeutic relationship is more like a
partnership than an expert and client
Motivational interviewing is a process to move
people towards appropriate interventions rather
than an end in itself.
Variations for older adults with a dual
Consider further nuancing the stages of change
model and motivational interviewing when working
with older adults with dual diagnosis:
What might appear as pre-contemplation
could reflect anything from ‘happy use’ to
having ‘given up hope’
We know that once older adults enter
treatment, they can do well, so more overt
encouragement towards ‘action’ might be
helpful for this group
The severity of alcohol dependence has a
direct positive effect on motivation to change.
Therefore, establishing if dependency exists,
and clearly communicating this to older adults,
could enhance movements towards change.
Keep in mind a strengths approach and an
emphasis on hope and welcome for older
people with a dual diagnosis
Ask what substances they have never started
using, or had started and previously stopped,
and why. We can assume that older clients
might want to talk about this and it can
provide a strengths-based lever for
considering current AOD use [1]
Put a greater emphasis on overt, pro-active
encouragement and reminders of
unpleasantness and risks for those who are at
a pre-contemplative stage [1]
Reasons for Use (RFU)
Investigating the reasons for use is central to
understanding the subjective perspective of people
with dual diagnosis, so engaging older adults in
conversation about their reasons for use can be an
important basis on which treatment can proceed. It
can provide an understanding of how they see the
association between mental health and AOD use
concerns and what maintains and assists recovery
from dual diagnosis. Research indicates that a
better understanding of why people with mental
illness use alcohol and other drugs can improve the
effectiveness of treatment [31, 32]
Older adults’ reasons for use
A RFU scale for older adults with mental illness has
been developed [1] and is in the process of further
trialling. It can be used to enhance a conversation
into reasons for use in an older dual diagnosis age
simply by asking the person if they agree or
otherwise with the reasons offered.
Contact Kathleen Ryan at NEXUS for further
BUDDHAS Older Adults Dual Diagnosis Resource Guide
Overlap between reasons for use and reasons
for change
Many of the motivating factors behind AOD use
also contain the seeds of change; they represent
two sides of the same coin. For example, the main
reason to use may be temporary relief from
distress, with the key reason to change being that
relief from distress is only temporary. (In one
study, reasons for AOD use were found not to be
related to ‘self-medicating’ of mental illness
symptoms and/or side effects. Rather, the reasons
for use were most commonly described as
providing relief from substantial distress [1]).
use information about RFU to start a
conversation about the client’s AOD use, by
simply asking ‘do you agree with this
reason…?’, Do you think it accurately reflects
your use of….?’
Ask: ‘how is that (specific reason) working for
you?’, ‘Is there any down side to that reason
for use?
Additional interventions have been developed, for
further trial, by NEXUS. Contact Kathleen Ryan,
NEXUS, for more information
Brief interventions
Brief interventions, as a follow-up to screening, are
commonly used in primary care settings with
adults with non-dependent but unhealthy AOD use.
Studies suggest that brief interventions are
effective with older people, with one or more
counselling sessions including assessment,
motivational work, patient education and feedback,
contracting (for example to keep a drink diary),
use of written materials, and setting goals and
incentives to reduce use.
Brief interventions are aimed at the person who
has not openly reported a drug or alcohol problem,
rather than someone who has actively sought help
for a drug or alcohol problem. Therefore there are
two main elements of a brief intervention;
identifying the problem via screening, and the
counselling intervention itself.
The components of brief interventions can be
understood in terms of the FRAMES acronym:
Components of a brief intervention
‘So, you say your difficulty
attending your appointments
on time may be related to
alcohol. What could you do
about that?’
Well, only you can make the
decision to stop drinking for
the next two weeks.
Yes, I recommend you stop
drinking for two weeks, to see
if that makes a difference.
If this turns out to be too
hard, we can consider other
options such as AA or referral
to the specialist team.
I know this will be hard for
you because you feel alcohol
helps you relax, and I’m
concerned about the amount
of stress you have.
Considering how difficult you
find this, I’m impressed by
your willingness to consider a
Older adults can be unaware of what constitutes
low-risk drinking, so an important part of advice-
giving is to assist these clients to understand what
constitutes a standard drink and low-risk drinking.
Draw out older adults about the amount of alcohol
they drink. One way to do this is to give them a
glass and let them pour to show you the amount.
Charts of Australian standard drinks can be
downloaded from here:
Similarly, appropriate psycho-social educational
material needs to be routinely provided, especially
considering that older adults can be willing to
change if risks are outlined. Consider if large print
versions are required.
It is important to acknowledge and work through
stressful life events and distress at the individual’s
Older adults reasons for use are often related to
experiencing distress. Consider what needs they
are trying to meet by using alcohol, and how else
their needs might be fulfilled. This also might take
time to untangle if the older person is not inclined
towards introspection.
Harm reduction
Within drug policy, harm reduction is a strategy
that comes under the umbrella of harm
minimisation. Harm minimisation recognises that
drug use, both licit and illicit, is an inevitable part
of society, and aims to reduce the harmful effects
of alcohol and other drugs on the user and the
community as a whole. It has underpinned state
and federal policy since 1985.
On the practice level, harm reduction describes a
way of working with people who use alcohol and
other drugs, where the aim is to reduce the
adverse consequences of continued drug use. It is
based on the understanding that at any given
time, some drug users are not interested in
changing reducing or stopping their AOD use.
BUDDHAS Older Adults Dual Diagnosis Resource Guide
This makes harm reduction an appropriate
approach for working with pre-contemplators. The
focus of harm reduction work is the harms
associated with use, rather than use per se.
A harm reduction approach is not inconsistent with
a goal of abstinence. Rather, it concentrates on
short-term, practical goal-setting rather than
emphasising idealistic or long-term goals.
Essentially it is about preventing or reducing
adverse consequences of AOD use even while use
continues, at least in the short term.
Harm reduction approach older
adults with a dual diagnosis
Although many older people with a dual diagnosis
want to and can change their AOD use, research
also shows that some might not be able to, or
might not want to gain insight into their AOD use
or to change it. With these clients, harm reduction
is important. Further, exploring the impact of AOD
use on physical and mental health within a
discussion about reducing their harm can be a
strong motivator towards change [1].
A range of harms are associated with different
types and patterns of AOD use and a range of
approaches can be used to respond to these risks.
Consider harm broadly in terms of AOD acquisition,
use, withdrawal, recovery within a bio-psych-social
framework. See Appendix 2 for grids that can be
used as an aid to considering harm broadly.
There are no specific guidelines for safe alcohol
consumption for older people. The Australian
Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking
Alcohol states:
1) For healthy men and women, drinking no
more than two standard drinks on any day
reduces the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-
related disease or injury.
2) For healthy men and women, drinking no
more than four standard drinks on a single
occasion reduces the risk of alcohol-related
injury arising from that occasion.
It also states, “… for some older adults, drinking
alcohol increases the risk of falls and injuries, as
well as some chronic conditions. Older people are
advised to consult their health professionals about
the most appropriate level of drinking for their
health” [4].
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and
Alcoholism (NIAAA) in America also recommends
that “Abstinence should be advised to individuals
who … take prescriptions or over-the-counter
medications that may interact with alcohol, [and
who] have a physical or mental health condition
that may be exacerbated by alcohol” [37]. These
situations are more likely to apply to older adults.
Relapse prevention
Once an older person with an AOD use problem
has made some changes, there is still work to be
done to move into the maintenance phase, and
most will need further support. They can
experience things like insomnia, vivid or troubling
dreams, mood swings, craving for sweet food, poor
appetite, and flashbacks. They might also display a
naïve optimism [18].
Relapse prevention work aims to avert return to
dependent use, and in the event of a lapse,
preventing it from becoming a full relapse. It
involves identifying risk situations, thoughts and
emotions, and developing strategies for dealing
with them when they arise. Central to this is help
with managing cravings.
Older adults can vary in their response to
psychotherapy and other counselling. Some regard
counselling techniques as formulaic or impersonal,
while others, especially if treatment naïve, find the
idea intimidating. Alternatively, older people can
respond well to creative therapies such as drama
and art therapy, although they can be put off if
such initiatives are introduced too forcefully.
AOD use counselling approaches for
older adults
While general counselling principles apply when
working with older people with a dual diagnosis,
there are also some specific considerations to bear
in mind.
Individual temperament
Consider individual temperament and the role AOD
use has in managing temperament. For example
some older adults experience problems processing
feelings (which could reflect the era they grew up
in), such as a tendency to globalise current mood,
or else being very driven and finding it difficult to
switch off.
Maintain hope
The counsellor has the task of ‘holding the hope’
for the client. This is a core task and follows from
assuming from the start that change is possible.
This is especially important for older clients
because of the common assumption that they do
not want to or are unable to implement change.
Social support
Social isolation is a bigger risk for older adults than
for younger people.
Social supports need to have spiritual as well as
physiological, psychological, social-environmental
components. Changes in spirituality (finding
meaning in life) and values are part of the normal
ageing process, as older adults come to terms with
the ageing process and the fact of their own
BUDDHAS Older Adults Dual Diagnosis Resource Guide
mortality. This can involve shifts in values attached
to relationships, success and failure, and material
Individualised treatment might include:
providing culturally safe support where
required to build confidence
age-specific programs
appropriate settings (physically accessible
services, outreach programs)
use of group therapies
self-help groups that emphasise social
Self-help groups / peer-based intervention
Participating in self-help groups can improve older
people’s psychological and physical health,
alleviating symptoms of depression, physical
conditions and adjustment to a caring role and
bereavement [33]. Research also suggests that (as
do many people) older people fare better if they
are in groups of their peers, and might prefer
smaller groups as being less intimidating [34].
Specialist AOD services for
older adults
Dependent drinkers usually require specialist
treatment, including inpatient withdrawal and
residential programs. Self-help groups such as
Alcoholics Anonymous and SMART Recovery may
also play an important role.
Older people who are dependent on other drugs,
including prescription medication, can benefit from
community based programs for older adults.
Currently, there are few older people in drug
treatment programs, so there is limited
information, along with few specialists in this area.
Older Wiser Lifestyles (OWL)
The OWL program, a Melbourne based specialist
AOD service for adults aged 60 and over, provides
prevention activity, and early intervention or
treatment (as indicated by the A-APRS screen).
The early intervention involves individual feedback,
education (about how alcohol and other drugs
interact with a client’s medications and state of
health), and motivational interviewing (for
contemplators) or harm reduction education (for
Treatment, for those whose drinking is at harmful
levels, includes long-term counselling, outreach
and support groups for education and peer support
Mental health services for
older adults
In recognition of the different mental health needs
of older adults compared with younger adults,
specialised aged persons psychiatric services have
been established across Australia.
In older adults the qualitative features of some
disorders such as depression can be distinct from
those in younger adults, resulting in some
underreporting of mental illness symptoms. The
incidence of cognitive disorders is significantly
greater among older adults.
BUDDHAS Older Adults Dual Diagnosis Resource Guide
5. For carers
Caring for an older person with an AOD problem
and mental health problems can be extremely
challenging. At the same time, carers are central
to the success of treatment for their loved one who
is experiencing these issues.
Research into the role of family, friends and
significant others in treatment and recovery is well
documented, but little is known about the carer
support role for the older person with a dual
diagnosis. While we know that the involvement of
close family and friends in treatment has a positive
effect overall, caring for an older person with
comorbid mental health and problematic AOD use
brings about increased complexity and multiple
Carers of older persons with a dual diagnosis are
often the older person’s adult children. This can
mean a role reversal of the caring relationship as
the adult child becomes the carer of their parent.
Adjusting to this role change may take some time,
depending on factors such as the historical
dynamics in the relationship and the length and
severity of the decline or illness in the older
Carers, no matter what age or whom they are
caring for, require support for what can be at times
a demanding and testing role. Carers are at higher
risk of mental and physical health problems
because of their caring role.
What does a carer do?
The caring role can be taken on by a variety of
people involved in the care recipient’s life, and the
role itself can vary considerably in terms of time
spent in the caring role and the complexity of the
role. It may not be a term that people identify
with, as they have assumed the caring role by
virtue of being a close family member.
The types of support provided includes:
financial, emotional and practical support
monitoring symptoms and facilitation of access
to treatment
encouragement to engage in recovery
In terms of time, the caring role might:
be a full time role
be unpredictable and vary in intensity at times
only take up a very small amount of the
carer’s time or effort
be difficult to judge/separate from one’s other
daily commitments
Services can vary in who they define as ‘carer’ and
this might affect eligibility, for example, for respite
options. A primary carer is the person who
provides most of the support. Within mental health
services, the primary carer has a right to certain
consumer information relating to their caring role
for a person with a mental illness.
Carer involvement in treatment
Family members and carers are central to the
recovery of a person with a dual diagnosis. It is
well accepted that carer involvement is needed in
treatment decisions and planning.
Carers may need information relating to:
the mental health diagnosis, signs and
symptoms and where they can access further
information about it
options for treatment
information about medication
contact numbers for the support services that
may be needed
advice about what recovery may look like
On their side, it is important for health
professionals to consider:
how the family/carers can be involved in
discussions concerning treatment
how carers are advised on the day-to-day
management of the person they provide
support to
referral to local carer support agencies /
groups / resources
the support needs of the carer and referral
pathways to address these
the viability of the carer role in the future
(carer may be frail/aged or unsure if they can
continue to provide adequate support)
Working with the mental
health system
Information, confidentiality and
Families and carers need to know about their
rights under the relevant legislation. Victoria’s
Mental Health Act 2014 places individuals and
carers at the centre of mental health treatment
and care. The Act recognises the important role of
families and carers in supporting their family
members and promotes joint decision-making and
strong communication between practitioners,
patients and their families and carers [35]:
BUDDHAS Older Adults Dual Diagnosis Resource Guide
The Act seeks to ensure carers will receive the
information they need to provide care or to
determine the nature and scope of care to be
provided to a patient and to make the
necessary arrangements in preparation for their
caring role, or to provide care to the patient. In
making a decision to provide information in
these circumstances, the person providing the
information must have regard to the patient’s
views and preferences about the disclosure,
including any preferences expressed in an
advance statement.
Information disclosed in these circumstances may
include about the treatment and management of
mental illness, how to respond to disturbing
behaviours, how to access practical assistance and
generally assisting carers to better support the
person with mental illness [35].
Respite options
Respite provides short term and time limited
breaks for families/carers of people with a mental
illness, on a planned or emergency basis, to
support and maintain the primary care giving
relationship while providing a positive experience
for the care recipient.
Different types of respite are available according to
the needs of individual families and the services
available. Services include:
unplanned respite in response to a crisis or
emergency situation.
regular respite occurring at a regular time
each week or at regular intervals
arranged respite on an 'as needed basis'
variable time frames lasting a few hours,
overnight or several days
a choice of location including in own home, in
the home of another friend/ family member,
community aged care setting, a planned
outing or activity or activity group.
How best to support a person
with a dual diagnosis
Some strategies have been identified as more
helpful than others. Listed below are some tips for
providing support to the care recipient, whilst also
considering the needs of the carer.
What works
Working together with others
Family being involved in treatment and
recovery conversations with the treating team
Carers, family and health professionals
working together towards a shared vision
Coming to an agreement about drug use
within the home or other situations
Agreeing that if the person cannot achieve
abstinence, a reduction in alcohol or other
drug use can be an appropriate goal.
In the direct carer role
Addressing the care recipient’s feelings of guilt
or shame associated with AOD use
Setting clear boundaries around behaviour and
limits on unacceptable behaviour
Encouraging small achievements, fostering
Identifying when drug use is likely to occur;
i.e., ‘trigger situations’
Encouraging independence with small steps at
a time
Above all, if something is not working, rather
than continuing with it, consulting with others
and trying something new.
In communication
Using ‘I’ statements (for example, ‘I feel
stressed when you ask me for money’, as
opposed to ‘you are always asking me for
money’). ‘I’ statements are less blaming and
conflictual than statements that start with
‘you’ or ‘they’.
Setting clear boundaries, written or spoken
Maintaining respect and expressing concern,
as opposed to reacting in anger
Not trying to communicate with an intoxicated
Being involved in counselling and
understanding the person’s experience of AOD
use and mental ill health.
For the carer
Supporting and caring, but not taking
responsibility for the care recipient’s actions
Taking time out of the caring role
Building resilience and seeking out education
and support
Speaking with the case manager, doctor, AOD
worker or another carer
Contacting carer support services
Trying to gain some understanding of why the
person uses drugs
Staying educated on the subject; learning
about the stages of change and the effects of
the drugs being used.
In particular situations or crises, you may need to
act quickly to protect yourself and the other person
as safety always comes first.
And what doesn’t work:
Threatening, criticising, yelling at the person
Providing cash often or on demand
Demanding that drug use stop immediately
Searching personal possessions
Demanding urine tests
Relenting on set boundaries.
BUDDHAS Older Adults Dual Diagnosis Resource Guide
Carer self-care
Recognising emotional responses to
Family members may experience significant stress
when caring for a person with dual diagnosis.
Feelings often reported by carers include anger,
grief, loss, embarrassment, shame, hopelessness,
fear for the future, anguish, bewilderment and an
overwhelming sense of responsibility.
Feelings of guilt often emerge when a loved one is
caring for someone with a mental illness. It is
important to remember that mental illness is an
illness and that it can happen to anyone from all
walks of life and culture. Guilt and feelings that are
associated with the caring role are individual and
so are the ways of dealing with them. However,
ignoring them can often result in physical and
emotional burnout. Over time, if these feelings are
not addressed they can become worse or bring
about other symptoms such as:
sleeping problems
confusion/difficulty making decisions
low mood or depression
weight loss or gain
violent outbursts
loss of confidence and
social isolation.
Loss and grief
Carers of people with a mental illness and dual
diagnosis experience grief and loss but it is often
overlooked and goes unrecognized. Grief is the
emotional pain that comes about as a result of a
loss or a number of losses. It is often overlooked
because the losses are less visible than they would
be with a physical illness or disability. It is one of
the strongest emotions which often causes carers
the greatest stress. Recognizing your grief and
talking to someone about how you are feeling can
Being proactive
What we know
Ask yourself
Where to get more information
Knowledge is
Am I educated about my
loved one’s condition?
If you have questions about the nature of the illness,
seek more information from the treating team or from
the GP. Ask for written information that you can take
home and read. Write down any further questions you
may have.
Violence and
intimidation are
often associated
with money for
drugs or alcohol.
Is my home as safe as I
need it to be? Have I
thought about ways to
stay safe?
Safety is an important consideration and the ideal home
provides safety and makes caring tasks easier. Some
carers have to consider safety issues related to
behaviours of the people they care for. Refer to the
Safety at Home factsheet on the Carers Victoria website.
Advocating within
the system for
your loved one
takes energy and
Am I working together
with the treatment team
to ensure that the person I
am caring for gets all they
help they need?
Don’t be afraid to keep asking for help where you think it
is needed. You will need other health professionals to
support you both along the way.
Having insight
regarding the
other person’s
illness is not easy
and takes time.
Do I understand that I
can’t make the changes
for them?
Linking in with others who know about mental illness and
AOD use will help to gain a realistic idea of what recovery
looks like and the time it may take.
Suicide and the
threat of suicide
can be a behaviour
of people with dual
Can I recognize symptoms
and know where to seek
treatment and support?
If someone is in immediate danger, or you are concerned
about safety in any way, call 000. For immediate and
free telephone assistance relating to suicidal thoughts,
contact SuicideLine on 1300 651 251 (Victorian 24 hour
helpline) or Lifeline.Ensure that the treating team and GP
are aware of any suicidal thoughts, past or present.
Relapse may be
higher for
someone with a
dual diagnosis but
it is also part of
the cycle of
change. It is often
very difficult for
family/carers to
watch a relapse.
In difficult times, do I
allow myself extra time to
care for my own
The impact of caring for someone should not be
overlooked—don’t hesitate to put your hand up and ask
for help, stay healthy, keep safe, look after your own
mental health, seek support and develop your own
strategies to keep well.
BUDDHAS Older Adults Dual Diagnosis Resource Guide
Taking care of yourself
Caring has many demands on your physical and
emotional health. Looking after yourself will assist
you in your caring role but to keep your own
health intact. Things to ask yourself:
Do I share the responsibilities of my caring
Am I getting enough breaks?
Have I made regular times to relax?
Do I get enough sleep?
Am I trying to allocate regular exercise time?
Do I get healthy regular meals?
Have I got someone I feel comfortable and
trust to talk about how I’m feeling?
Do I foster friendships?
Have I continued to do the things I enjoy?
Would seeking professional help be useful?
Would attending family support groups be
Continue doing things that you enjoy in life:
Visit family and friends
Spend time with pets
Spend time relaxing
Arrange good family time together
Make a list of enjoyable family activities
Maintain respect for family member
Work in the garden
Practise your religion
Allow yourself some ‘me’ time
Whatever works for you do it!
BUDDHAS Older Adults Dual Diagnosis Resource Guide
Appendix 1. Suggestions for using the ASSIST with
older adults who have a mental illness
As described in Section 2, the ASSIST (Alcohol,
Smoking and Substance Involvement Screening
Test) has the advantage of screening for a broad
range of substances. It has also been widely tested
for reliability and validity, but has not been
specifically calibrated for an older population with
mental illness.
A 2012 Australian study examined the usefulness
of the ASSIST for adults aged 55 years and older
[1]. Suggestions for adapting the ASSIST for use
with this population are offered.
Question 3 asks about frequency of ‘a strong
desire or urge to use’. Some participants in Ryan’s
study did not quite understand ‘strong desire or
urge’ and related better to prompts such as ‘Do
you think a lot about drug/alcohol use?’ or ‘Do you
feel you want to use drugs/alcohol a lot?’ Some
participants said they needed to use to stay awake
through the day, so adding prompts such as ‘Do
you feel you need alcohol or other drugs to keep
you awake or keep you going through the day?’
and Do you feel you are addicted?’ may be
Question 5 required further prompting as
participants did not readily identify with failing to
do what was normally expected of her/him
because of her/his use of a particular
substances/s. Nevertheless some related better to
an additional prompt regarding having missed
appointments with practitioners.
Also, some related better to question 6 when
asked if a practitioner had ever expressed concern,
rather than a family of friend having ever
expressed concern.
Mental illness
The risk estimation could be revised for
psychoactive drugs like cannabis, amphetamines
or cocaine as the Feedback Report Card for
Patients specifies that ‘regular’ use is associated
with risks but we know that for some people with a
mental illness, intermittent and low dose use can
produce risks. A person might use infrequently, but
because of super-sensitivity even this infrequent
use can lead to psychosis. Therefore it might be
more appropriate when using the ASSIST with
people with a mental illness (in particular psychotic
illnesses), to add an ‘ever used’ score of 3 to the
risk score for each drug ever used.
Contact Kathleen Ryan, NEXUS, for more
information on utilising this screen with the
incorporation of additional prompts.
BUDDHAS Older Adults Dual Diagnosis Resource Guide
Appendix 2: Identifying drug-related harm and
strategies to reduce harm
Identifying drug-related harm
Identify the drug-related harm, or the risk of drug-related harm, at each stage in the drug use cycle and for
each of the domains of harm at each stage.
Domain of harm
Effects of the drug
Recovery and
Strategies for reducing drug-related harm
Think of strategies, other than total abstinence, which could be used to reduce drug-related harm, or reduce
the risk of drug-related harm, at each stage in the drug use cycle and for each of the domains of harm at each
Domain of harm
Effects of the drug
Recovery and
BUDDHAS Older Adults Dual Diagnosis Resource Guide
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Data indicate that substance abuse problems are common in the elderly but are largely ignored. The elderly cohort of abusers is divided into early and late onset groups. Abuse moderating factors include cohort effects, socioeconomic status, and frail health, while exacerbating factors include discretionary income, status as a hidden population, and caregiver complicity. Physiological and psychological influences are concomitant to substance abuse. A number of screening instruments exist and treatment should be tailored to the unique needs of the elderly population.
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Sleep disturbances are most prevalent among older adults and often go untreated. Treatment options for sleep disturbances remain limited, and there is a need for community-accessible programs that can improve sleep. To determine the efficacy of a mind-body medicine intervention, called mindfulness meditation, to promote sleep quality in older adults with moderate sleep disturbances. Randomized clinical trial with 2 parallel groups conducted from January 1 to December 31, 2012, at a medical research center among an older adult sample (mean [SD] age, 66.3 [7.4] years) with moderate sleep disturbances (Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index [PSQI] >5). A standardized mindful awareness practices (MAPs) intervention (n = 24) or a sleep hygiene education (SHE) intervention (n = 25) was randomized to participants, who received a 6-week intervention (2 hours per week) with assigned homework. The study was powered to detect between-group differences in moderate sleep disturbance measured via the PSQI at postintervention. Secondary outcomes pertained to sleep-related daytime impairment and included validated measures of insomnia symptoms, depression, anxiety, stress, and fatigue, as well as inflammatory signaling via nuclear factor (NF)-κB. Using an intent-to-treat analysis, participants in the MAPs group showed significant improvement relative to those in the SHE group on the PSQI. With the MAPs intervention, the mean (SD) PSQIs were 10.2 (1.7) at baseline and 7.4 (1.9) at postintervention. With the SHE intervention, the mean (SD) PSQIs were 10.2 (1.8) at baseline and 9.1 (2.0) at postintervention. The between-group mean difference was 1.8 (95% CI, 0.6-2.9), with an effect size of 0.89. The MAPs group showed significant improvement relative to the SHE group on secondary health outcomes of insomnia symptoms, depression symptoms, fatigue interference, and fatigue severity (P < .05 for all). Between-group differences were not observed for anxiety, stress, or NF-κB, although NF-κB concentrations significantly declined over time in both groups (P < .05). The use of a community-accessible MAPs intervention resulted in improvements in sleep quality at immediate postintervention, which was superior to a highly structured SHE intervention. Formalized mindfulness-based interventions have clinical importance by possibly serving to remediate sleep problems among older adults in the short term, and this effect appears to carry over into reducing sleep-related daytime impairment that has implications for quality of life. Identifier: NCT01534338.
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Background: Drug treatment clients are significantly more likely to remain in treatment if ancillary life issues and complex needs are addressed.Aim: to document and analyse the complex needs (‘complex vulnerabilities’) of people experiencing both problems with drug dependence and common mental health problems, with a particular focus on barriers and incentives to drug treatment.Method: A qualitative interview-based study of 77 participants in four sites (three metropolitan, one regional) in Australia.Results: Complex vulnerabilities were deeply embedded in participants' lives and unlikely to be quickly resolved. Poor housing, criminal justice issues and the experience of poverty or debt affected participants' ability to secure basic needs, and their ability to participate in drug or mental health treatment. Difficulties in finding assistance for complex vulnerabilities, especially at times of crisis, were reported by many participants.Conclusions: There is an urgent need to reform the health system to better meet the needs of this group and ensure a ‘no wrong door’ policy. The resilience demonstrated by participants in managing complex issues should be acknowledged, although the deleterious effect of complex vulnerabilities on treatment participation and outcomes should be recognised.
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There has been a growing literature documenting the high prevalence of co-occurring mental health disorders among clients of substance use treatment services and the challenges clinicians face when treating comorbid clients. To assist alcohol and other drug (AOD) workers in working with these clients, the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing funded the development of ‘Guidelines on the management of co-occurring alcohol and other drug and mental health conditions in alcohol and other drug treatment settings.’ Too often guidelines are produced but not evaluated. The present study aimed to examine the extent to which this resource is perceived to be relevant and useful to clinical practice. Ninety-seven AOD workers from across Australia completed an online survey. A series of questions asked respondents to rate the relevance and usefulness of the Guidelines to their clinical practice. Overall, the responses received were overwhelmingly positive. The vast majority of respondents perceived the Guidelines to be relevant and useful to their clinical practice. Almost all respondents (91%) indicated that they will use some of the things they learnt from the Guidelines in their work. The findings indicate that the Guidelines are an acceptable resource to the AOD field, and have broad applicability across AOD workers representing a range of occupations, from various service types in different geographic locations, who service a variety of client groups. The findings are encouraging, and suggest that the Guidelines may have the potential to lead to improvements in a treatment provision.
At least 5.6 million to 8 million--nearly one in five--older adults in America have one or more mental health and substance use conditions, which present unique challenges for their care. With the number of adults age 65 and older projected to soar from 40.3 million in 2010 to 72.1 million by 2030, the aging of America holds profound consequences for the nation. For decades, policymakers have been warned that the nation's health care workforce is ill-equipped to care for a rapidly growing and increasingly diverse population. In the specific disciplines of mental health and substance use, there have been similar warnings about serious workforce shortages, insufficient workforce diversity, and lack of basic competence and core knowledge in key areas. Following its 2008 report highlighting the urgency of expanding and strengthening the geriatric health care workforce, the IOM was asked by the Department of Health and Human Services to undertake a complementary study on the geriatric mental health and substance use workforce. The Mental Health and Substance Use Workforce for Older Adults: In Whose Hands? assesses the needs of this population and the workforce that serves it. The breadth and magnitude of inadequate workforce training and personnel shortages have grown to such proportions, says the committee, that no single approach, nor a few isolated changes in disparate federal agencies or programs, can adequately address the issue. Overcoming these challenges will require focused and coordinated action by all. © 2012 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Trends and IncidenceEtiology and PrognosisEvidence-Based InterventionsEvidence-Based Practice GuidelinesEvidence-Based Policy RecommendationsFuture Directions for Research
Approximately 50% of older adults have chronic pain. Opioid analgesics play an important role in treating noncancerous chronic pain in older adults, but abuse of these agents is a growing problem in the United States. Although it is unclear what the prevalence of opioid misuse is among older adults, 1.4% of participants in one small study reported misusing pain relievers within a 1-year period. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has encouraged the development of opioids with abuse-deterrent technologies (ADTs). A number of strategies have been used or are in development, but the FDA has not allowed any products containing ADTs to be marketed with claims that they prevent abuse or misuse, although it has allowed manufacturers to include data on the drug's label that demonstrate the agent's resistance to manipulation. Additionally, ADTs that are currently available or in development do not appear to prevent misuse in every way, and no studies to date have conclusively proven that they deter abuse or misuse. Because of the added cost of producing opioids that contain ADTs, careful patient selection is warranted, as these agents provide no benefit when prescribed to older adults who do not self-abuse, misuse, or divert their opioid medications. In this article, the authors review data on abuse, misuse, and diversion of opioids among elders and examine the role of ADTs in preventing such acts.
The Alcohol-Related Problems Survey (ARPS) reliably classifies drinking as non-hazardous, hazardous or harmful using scoring algorithms that consider quantity and frequency of alcohol use alone and in combination with health conditions, medication-use and functional status. Because it has been developed using a 14-g US standard drink, it is not valid in Australia where a standard drink contains 10 g of ethanol. We recalibrated the ARPS scoring algorithms for a 10-g Australian standard drink and updated the medications. The Australian ARPS (A-ARPS) was then administered to 50 non-treatment-seeking participants in waves of five. The A-ARPS recalibrated scoring algorithms reliably classified all 50 individuals. Sixty-six per cent were classified as hazardous or harmful drinkers. Many were taking medications that interact with alcohol or had medical conditions that can be exacerbated by alcohol consumption. The A-ARPS is available for use in Australia. Its utilisation could reduce the incidence of alcohol-related harms.
The number of older people is increasing in populations throughout the world. Alcohol use disorders in elderly people are a common but underrecognised problem associated with major physical and psychological health problems. Owing to the negative attitudes and inadequate training of healthcare professionals, alcohol misuse is not always being detected or effectively treated. Current diagnostic criteria and common screening instruments for alcohol use disorders may not be appropriate for elderly people. Older people are as likely to benefit from treatment as younger people and the basic principles of treatment are much the same. Better integrated and outreach services are needed. Training of healthcare professionals in this area and pragmatic research should be prioritised to improve detection, treatment and service provision for this vulnerable and neglected population.
Four clinical interview questions, the CAGE questions, have proved useful in helping to make a diagnosis of alcoholism. The questions focus on Cutting down, Annoyance by criticism, Guilty feeling, and Eye-openers. The acronym "CAGE" helps the physician to recall the questions.How these questions were identified and their use in clinical and research studies are described.(JAMA 1984;252:1905-1907)