Caregiving and Substance Abuse: Crisis Intervention

Okay, we’ve all seen the reality show “Intervention” and thought to ourselves, “If my family ever did that to me I would just be so embarrassed.” The family member who has issues with addiction are truly humiliated, yet most the time they get the help they need and all of TV land gets to watch.

While I haven’t gone to that extreme, I have currently found myself as the family member trying to get help for an addicted, self-destructive loved one. A place no one ever wishes to find himself in, yet sometimes we must take the steps to help those around us that we love dearly, get the help they so desperately need.

My moment by moment thoughts are incessantly on this relative of mine which is beginning to hinder my well-being in the form of physical stress (taking the form of back and shoulder pain and headaches), emotional pain and stress, and is distracting me from my daily routines and my work. Today, I actually had a melt down in the grocery store when a song came on the radio that reminded me of this cherished one.

Care giving is NOT for the faint of heart and takes its toll on every part of our being.

Up until recently, I was unaware of how many caregivers are dealing with these same issues but with an aging loved one.

Here are some stats that just might surprise you:

  • There are 2.5 million older adults with an alcohol or drug problem
  • Six to 11 percent of elderly hospital admissions are a result of alcohol or drug problems — 14percent of elderly emergency room admissions, and 20 percent of elderly psychiatric hospital admissions.
  • Widowers over the age of 75 have the highest rate of alcoholism in the U.S.
  • Nearly 50 percent of nursing home residents have alcohol related problems.
  • Older adults are hospitalized as often for alcoholic related problems as for heart attacks.
  • Nearly 17 million prescriptions for tranquilizers are prescribed for older adults each year. Benzodiazepines, a type of tranquilizing drug, are the most commonly misused and abused prescription medications.

My first question after reading these statistics was “Why do older adults sometimes not get the specialized treatment that they need. Here are a few reasons:

  • Alcohol and drug abuse is often difficult to detect in older persons — mistaking symptoms for signs of aging. (Physicians receive very little education on substance dependence and misdiagnosis is frequent. Never had a problem before — but perhaps the pain of losing loved ones initiates use).
  • Addicted elderly are often isolated from loved ones — they may hide their use — or it is perceived to be “one of their few pleasures in life” or symptoms are mistaken for aging.
  • Often there are multiple health care providers and multiple medications — difficult to see the addiction

Don’t get me started on the whole racketeering between some physicians and pharmaceuticals, but I’ve seen first hand how one prescribed drug leads to another, then the side effects of that one now insures you need this additional drug to counteract the previous prescriptions. Not to mention just watching prescription commercials on television and hearing the absurd side effects. My favorite one is “One side effect of this prescription is sudden death.”

So, with all that being said what can I do as a caring loved one to help these precious souls?

Clinical research shows that older adults with late onset addiction respond just as well to treatment as do younger patients.

Experts tell us that we should proactively sit down with the older adult suspected of alcohol or drug abuse to assess the current situation. Be gentle, but also to be direct and specific.

We should avoid being judgmental. They may be defensive, make excuses and tell you it’s not your business…but that’s just another manipulative behavior associated with addiction. I’ve dealt with that one for years. If at all possible, communicate your concerns with their physician. They are often unaware of addictive behavior or multiple medications from different physicians.

If a problem is identified during all of this, appropriate treatment should be sought. Older addicted adults often have special treatment needs so professionals should be consulted.

Here are some warning signs to look out for when assessing any addictive situation:

  • Occasional slurred speech
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Unkempt appearance reflecting poor personal hygiene
  • Increased complaints of insomnia
  • Frequent health complaints without evidence of medical problems
  • Lying about drinking habits
  • Increased frequency of drinking
  • Irritability and mood instability when not drinking
  • Unexplained bruises and repeated falls
  • Black outs
  • Signs of withdrawal — such as tremors — when not drinking
  • Increased forgetfulness
  • Social withdrawal
  • Depression, anxiety and mental health problems
  • Hiding alcohol or pills
  • Discomfort when confronted about drinking or drug use behaviors

There is help. No situation is too “out of control” to warrant help.

Think of yourself as one who has been placed in the lives of these loved ones to “protect and to serve.”

It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through, (tho’ they may be mad as hell at me at the moment) yet knowing that my loved one is getting the help they need assures me I’ve done the right thing I’m sure what they’re experiencing through all of this is no picnic.


Statistics taken from University of Pennsylvania Health System/Stairway to Recovery

About Sue Salach

Sue has a Master's degree in Gerontology and has worked with the elderly and their families for over 30 years and is the Author of "Along Comes Grandpa", a caregiving resource guide, and the novel "If I Walked in Her Shoes". As an ElderCare Expert and Keynote Speaker, Sue employs her comprehensive experience and passion, to educate and promote self-care values to family caregivers and the community at large.
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2 Responses to Caregiving and Substance Abuse: Crisis Intervention

  1. Pingback: Caregiving and Substance Abuse: Crisis Intervention | Debbie's Story

  2. Belen Gordon says:

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