Shippensburg University alumnus Kristen Varner spoke about the impact that substance abuse can have on older adults.
The lecture was held on March 29th in Shippen Hall and was co-sponsored by the department of social work and the gerontology minor.
Varner is an outspoken member of the recovery community and currently oversees all RASE Project programs in the Carlisle area, including both educational training and advocacy efforts. RASE stands for recovery, advocacy, service and empowerment. Varner also belongs to many other organizations that strive to aid those who suffer from substance abuse including the Cumberland County Opiate Overdose Coalition, the Citizens Advisory Committee for Cumberland County Children and Youth and the Substance Abuse and Prevention Coalition.
To kick off the discussion, Varner began by addressing just how much of a growing problem substance abuse among older adults really is.
“Abuse of alcohol and prescription drugs by those over 60 is one of the fastest growing health problems in the United States,” Varner said.
Although substance abuse among older adults is becoming more and more common, the underlying causes often differ from person to person.
Older adults suffering from substance abuse are considered to be either early onset or late onset abusers. Individuals diagnosed with early onset often began abusing substances for a variety of other reasons before they reached the age of 40. On the other hand, someone in the late onset category most likely began these self-destructive habits as a coping mechanism for some kind of recent loss, according to Varner.
She said individuals who abuse alcohol are putting themselves at a higher risk of contracting certain illnesses including heart disease, liver disease, digestive problems, breast cancer, liver cancer and much more. Not only can alcohol abuse cause the abuser to suffer from a wide variety of medial problems, but it can actually trigger or make current medical problems worse.
To wrap up the lecture, Varner introduced a special guest speaker, James, to share his experiences dealing with alcoholism and the battles he dealt with during his recovery process. Once he finished sharing his story, he shocked the audience by saying that he is actually Kristen’s father. Learning more details about his personal life made the experience much more intimate than when it began.
“You can’t come as far as I have without wanting to help others,” James said.
Currently, James is celebrating 10 years in recovery with his wife and family by his side.