Older adults and seniors age quickly when suffering from alcoholism or addiction to mood-altering prescription drugs. They lose their health, their mental clarity, and their ability to live independently years earlier than other people their age.
Alcoholism begins the downward journey into illness, pain, and inactivity. Older adults who would otherwise enjoy grandchildren and family gatherings, becomes increasingly withdrawn, angry, and malcontent.
The good news is, older adults are more successful in treatment than any other age group. They can and do reclaim their lives.
The symptoms of alcohol and medication dependence can be different in adults fifty-five years old and over than in younger people. They often drink at home alone so no one notices the severity of the problem. Many older adults are retired, so they don’t have work related problems due to drinking. They drive less, so there’s less opportunity to get arrested for driving under the influence. So well hidden, the alcohol problem is sometimes mistaken for depression, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s Disease. But, over time, it becomes clear that alcohol or drugs are to blame.
No child wants to see an older parent deteriorate. No spouse wants to see the person they’ve shared their life with lose everything to alcohol or mood-altering medications. No grandchild wants to grow up without the special relationship only a grandparent can provide.
When the family can no longer deny the problem, and the aging alcoholic is losing the ability to live independently, everyone in the family begins to react. We’ve seen many “solutions” put in place by family members. A spouse attempts to control the situation by doling out a daily ration of alcohol or tranquillizers. An adult child goes through the house looking for hidden bottles and pours them out. Everyone takes turns babysitting the alcoholic so she doesn’t drink herself to death or burn the house down while intoxicated. They may begin to clean the house, pay the bills, do the grocery shopping. The keys to the car are taken away. All of these “solutions” take tremendous time and energy. But, none of them solves the problem for long.
Anyone facing an older adult’s alcohol or medication dependence must begin by separating fact from fiction. Identify myths and replace them with truth. Learn what works and what doesn’t. When everyone is committed to educating themselves about older adults and addiction, it is easier to make well-informed, cohesive family decisions. Our mission is to give you a place to start, including good beginning information as well as resources to help you further your education. With the right information, you are likely to be effective in helping your addicted older adult get well.
Aging and Addiction: Helping Older Adults Overcome Alcohol or Medication Dependence, by Carol Colleran and Debra Jay (Hazelden, 2002), is an authoritative guide for understanding and intervening on this problem.
For help with an intervention, visit the Love First website.
To buy Aging and Addiction at amazon.com, click here.
Read Debra Jay’s new book: No More Letting Go: The Spirituality of Taking Action Against Alcoholism and Drug Addiction.
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