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Older Addict Makes Room for Sobriety

Using lushly decorated accommodations, a recovering alcoholic runs detox homes.

En español | You could say that Boris González leads a double life. He's the son of one of Spain's most famous wine-producing families — and a recovering alcoholic. He owns a beachside boutique hotel in Florida's Vero Beach, wining and dining guests in a lushly appointed setting — and he runs treatment centers specializing in older addicts.

See also: Addiction and Latinos.

Despite these apparent contradictions, he's a man with one mission: to expand the scope of addiction programs beyond the standard 28-day stint to a two-year process that can help addicts stay sober. With this in mind, he's designed five recovery residences with a look toward a more in-depth and comfortable approach to helping addicts turn their lives around. The core of the residents consists of well-to-do, educated, overworked baby boomers.

González, who is a 51-year-old businessman with a designer's flair, decorated the homes with the same eye for detail used in his hotel, the Caribbean Court. (And to help pay the centers' bills, he uses at least 10 percent of hotel profits.) Photos of Cuba and González Bypass — the Jerez, Spain, headquarters of his family's wine and spirits enterprise — dot the walls of the Plantation Home and Villa Mizner, two of the signature homes. Residents dwell among vintage furniture and sleep on crisp, luxurious linens. The deluxe factor is by design, a gesture toward more upscale clients who may not otherwise opt for a sober-living residence. Such centers, González says, aim to help recovering addicts transition back into mainstream society.

And there are many who need that assistance. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that illicit drug use among adults in their 50s has increased by more than 60 percent — a figure that Dr. Barbara Krantz, CEO of the Hanley Center, a recovery facility in West Palm Beach, calls "a global public health crisis" — and predicts the need for treatment among addicts age 50 and older will double by 2020.

 Franco Vogt

"My family has been making wine since 1835. I grew up around alcohol, so it was as if you spend your life hearing that distilled water is good for you, then one day somebody tells you it's bad for you."

—Boris González

Older addicts are notoriously difficult to treat, say the experts at the Hanley Center, which last year launched its Freedom Program for Boomers. That generation is coming to recovery sicker and addicted to multiple substances, making detox a far more complicated process. "Boomers take pain medication even if they don't have any pain," says Juan Harris, director of Hanley's Older Adult Recovery program, referring to addicts' dependence on drugs even when there are no symptoms. Harris and other addiction recovery doctors say that boomers are more impatient than other addicts and often seek quick-fix solutions, self-diagnose and self-medicate. Their substance of choice? Anything from surreptitiously obtained prescription drugs to heroin to Chardonnay.

González is driven by his own frenzied years of work and excess, followed by a difficult struggle to kick his dependence on his drug of choice: alcohol. The Cuba-born son of wealthy exiled parents — Cuban citizens who have deep Spanish roots — knows about the challenges that addicts can face. "My family has been making wine since 1835. I had a hard time getting sober," he says. "I grew up around alcohol, so it was as if you spend your life hearing that distilled water is good for you, then one day somebody tells you it's bad for you."

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