Caregiving Tips for those Suffering from Alcoholism
Alcoholism is a disease. Like any disease, it needs to be treated. Alcohol addiction complicates being a caregiver and makes the role much harder and more stressful than caregiving already is. It increases the clients’ needs, comprises their health and complicates medical conditions. Alcoholism can be the cause of a need for care in the first place. Because the aging process affects how the body handles alcohol, the same amount of alcohol can have a greater effect as a person grows older. Caregivers have to address all the stresses and added health problems of continuing alcoholism, as well as dealing with alcoholics who can be irrational, unreasonable and often dishonest about their addiction.
Talk About It
Dealing with an aging parent who has an alcohol addiction problem isn’t quite like any other challenge. You have to cope day after day with someone who can be kind and communicative one moment and raging and incoherent the next. You have to try to keep a family member safe who could stumble and fall when drinking alone or pass out in an alcoholic stupor.
Since most alcoholics don’t admit they have a problem, it can feel like trying to help someone who refuses to be helped – or who doesn’t acknowledge needing help in the first place. Sometimes all you can do is to connect with others in groups like Al-Anon who have been there, and learn and receive comfort from their shared experiences. It may be difficult to speak openly about a loved one’s alcoholism and the challenges of trying to keep them safe, but it can be very comforting to learn you are not alone and that you are not responsible for curing the addiction.
Judgment and preaching do not help when caring for an addicted elder. Try to find a physician who views addiction as a medical condition and will treat the person with compassion and likely, medication. Don’t be ashamed to tell a doctor that your elderly parent has a substance abuse problem. People can die from untreated withdrawal, e.g., during hospitalization, when medical intervention could have made them comfortable, or even saved them.
Ask your doctor or pharmacist if drugs are safe when combined with alcohol. Many medicines—prescription, over-the-counter, or herbal remedies—can be dangerous or even deadly when mixed with alcohol. They can increase the negative effects of alcohol consumption.
Taking Care of Parents Who Didn’t Take Care of You, a book by Eleanor Cade, addresses the dilemma of adult children of abusive, neglectful or absent parents who have made the choice to care for their elderly parents. “The challenge,” says Cade, “is for caregivers to make sure they are responding to the situation, not their emotions. It is important to be flexible enough to recognize that negative thoughts and positive actions can co-exist. Being flexible also means adapting and changing our caregiver role as needs be, understanding that good caregiving requires diplomacy, outside support, and a practical network of assistance.”
Take good care of yourself. Caregivers need to exercise, eat nutritious meals, abstain from using tobacco, alcohol, and drugs, get enough sleep and make time for partners, children, and friends in order to keep their lives in healthy balance.
Establish boundaries with elderly alcoholic parents, other family members, and yourself. For example, this could mean limiting visits, not taking phone calls after a certain time, and deciding for oneself what is reasonable or possible as you go about caring for this person. Many elders will tell you that alcohol is their “only pleasure.” And for some it is. Don’t let this affect the care you know they need to have. Just remember that compassion in treating the symptoms, or controlling the alcohol or drug amounts to keep them from falling, are often the only choices you have.
If you need help in caring for an elderly parent, contact Dakota Travel Nurse Home Care at 701.663.5373 for a free evaluation.
- Family Caregiver Alliance Web site at http://www.caregiver.org/.
- Caregiving.Com at http://www.caregiving.com/