Addiction: They call us the sandwich generation as we make it through our week, wedging the caretaking of children and parents into our already full work schedules. Caring for an aging parent can be difficult enough when health issues, mental health concerns, or socialization needs can pull a care-giving family member in a myriad of directions, but add a drinking or drug problem into the mix, and the situation can become extremely stressful very quickly.
It’ll help to face the fact that addiction can happen to anyone. It’s possible that your mom or dad, who has enjoyed responsible social drinking for decades, has become addicted. Sometimes, addiction to a formerly prescribed pain medication occurs. To deal effectively with the situation, you need to admit to yourself that it’s happening. Denial is a debilitating aspect of addiction and prevents healing and recovery. Things can turn worse that you may need to go for specialized addiction treatment services.
Before you attempt any conversation with your parent, ask God for the patience and guidance needed to do this lovingly. Although a million things have to be going on in your mind, ask God to help you focus as it’s the only way you can help both yourself and your parents. Starting a discussion in anger or frustration won’t help anyone.
Depending upon your parent, the next steps may be simple and straightforward: discuss your concerns with your parents and help them seek help. However, in many cases, an older adult is no more receptive to hearing about concerns you have about their alcohol use than anyone else and are as steeped in denial or anger as any other person struggling with an addiction. In these cases, the next steps can be very convoluted and difficult. If you feel that a conversation is in order, try “joining” with your parent first.
Acknowledge how difficult it must be to be in their shoes and really listen to their concerns or complaints. Take time to have this conversation, and set yourself up to be able to really listen and be patient (no mean feat, but worth the effort). Ask your parent how they are coping with all the emotions they are dealing with, thus opening up the way for them to admit that using alcohol or other substances has been part of their coping.
Once you’ve gotten the acknowledgment of the problem out into the open, you might be disappointed by the fact that your parent does not change their drinking habits. Many times, an alcoholic will reach a point of admitting that they are indeed addicted, but hopelessness sets in, and they continue to drink. Identifying the problem and then feeling powerless to change it can be extremely debilitating, thus leading to more numbing and seeking of solace from the substance in a vicious cycle. To help, try not to judge or react. Talk with friends and avoid taking your frustration and worries out on your family. Keep reminding yourself that addiction is a disease and that negative or unhealthy behaviors are symptoms of that disease.