I recently watched a new public service announcement about speaking up about addiction, one that specifically involved a young adult son and his father. The PSA shows the younger man breaking down and approaching the conversation about his father’s alcohol problem – a conversation that, no doubt, will be emotionally challenging. You can watch the short video, ‘Speak Up.’ Our nation is currently facing one of the most troubling drug epidemics it has ever seen: Millions of Americans are addicted to alcohol, heroin, prescription painkillers and more. In the ongoing battle against addiction, so often we hear from parents who are desperate to help an addicted child. One of the most overlooked – but all too common scenarios – is adult children trying to get a parent or grandparent into treatment for addiction.
Addiction In The Older Population
For some people, having an addicted parent starts before or during childhood. For others, they watch as their parents grow older and develop alcohol or drug dependence later in life. There are some major difficulties that can result with age, causing people to turn to substances to cope:
- Children grow up and move out
- A partner of many years may become ill or pass away
- Physical pain increases
- Loss of mobility
- Stress of giving up a job
- Friends become fewer
Whatever the reason is that the parent or grandparent initially turned to drugs or alcohol, the physical problems associated with addiction can become greatly exacerbated later in life. Although addiction is extremely harmful at any age – the impact of drug or alcohol-related health problems or injuries can be much great, and much more debilitating.
Older Adult Addiction Statistics
According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), alcohol and drug dependence in older adults is one of the fastest growing health problems in our country. In particular, prescription drug use in older adults is one of the leaders.
- Nearly 2.5 million older adults are facing an alcohol or drug dependence or addiction
- Nearly half of nursing home residents have diagnosed alcohol-related problems
- The number of older adults hospitalized for heart attacks is equivalent to the number of older adults hospitalized for alcohol-related problems
- Each year, older adults are prescribed nearly 17 million prescriptions for tranquilizers
- Adults 65 years and older account for 13% of the population – but account for 30% of all medications prescribed in the United States.
Approaching An Addicted Parent Or Grandparent
Approaching a loved one about their addiction can be emotionally overwhelming. When the addicted loved one is a parent or grandparent, it can be especially daunting. You may feel as though you’re overstepping your boundaries as their child or grandchild. You may feel a mix of sadness, anger and worry about their past and the future. What’s important to keep in mind is that addiction is not only a disease – it’s a progressive illness; left untreated, addiction will only worsen. Addiction doesn’t get better without treatment and care. Helping a parent get into an addiction treatment facility will be the best way for them to address their illness, and move forward with medical and psychological care.
- Have A Game Plan Before approaching your parent or grandparent, it’s important to speak to an addiction treatment specialist, an addiction counselor or mental health professional. Understand that by having a professional on your side, you’ll be armed with the support that you need on how to navigate the process of getting your loved one into rehab. If you parent agrees to get help, you may only have a small window of opportunity to transition them into this care. Understand that it may take several attempts to have a break-through with your parent or grandparent.
- Choose An Appropriate Time Timing really is everything when approaching any person in active addiction about their substance use. Try talking to them at a time when your parent or grandparent is less likely to be intoxicated. That way, you’ll increase the chances that they’re more receptive and focused on the discussion.
- Keep Emotions In Check Dealing with addiction in the family is always emotional, regardless of the relationship. When it’s your own parent who is addicted, it can be especially troublesome. However, it’s crucial that you do you best to keep your emotions in check. If your parent is addicted, chances are, he or she is already beating him or herself up emotionally over their substance use or other circumstances in their life. Rather than escalating those emotions, come from a place of genuine concern. Try to avoid bringing up painful memories or accusations – and instead, point to specific examples in which you have been worried. Keeping the conversation focused on your concerns will seem less judgmental and argumentative – and more productive.
- Listen Armed with solutions and resources for your parent, you may feel as though you’re the one who needs to do the talking. Remember to listen to what your parent has to say about their substance use – and understand that they’ll want to be heard. You may disagree with what they say, but know that there is an underlying reason they’ve turned to drugs or alcohol – and these issues will need to be sorted through while in treatment. By offering an ear and letting them vent, you’ll allow them focus on what is will take to get to the path of recovery.
- Offer Help Remember step #1? If you’ve already spoken to a treatment provider or two, you’ll know the next step to take with a parent or grandparent. Understand that no one ever enters rehab with a smile on their face and a kick in their step – most people are very scared, apprehensive or resistant to detox or addiction treatment. Reassure your parent that you’ve done your research and they won’t be alone in the process of getting into treatment and on the road to recovery.
- Take Care Of Yourself As the family member of a person in active addiction, it can be difficult to think of anyone besides your loved one who is sick. You’re likely buried with stress, emotionally, mentally and financially – and likely struggling with finding a healthy way to cope. But, if your parent or grandparent is addicted, you need to remember your well-being – ideally by talking to a mental health professional, therapist or counselor.
- Don’t Ever Give Up As long as there is life, there is hope. It is never too late for anyone struggling with addiction to get help and find healing. No matter how long your parent or grandparent has been using; no matter their drug of choice; no matter how resistant to treatment they have been or maybe continue to be – it is not too late for recovery.