The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that there will be more than 83 million American adults over the age of 65 by 2050. It will be double the number in 2012. This group of seniors, part of the baby boomer generation, are assumed to have experimented with drugs and alcohol in their teens and early adult life.
And some of them might be struggling with addiction in their old age. Psych Central recorded approximately 3 million adults older than 65 who were battling alcohol abuse in 2012; the number is expected to grow to over 6 million this year. If you suspect that your parent or an elderly family member has alcohol dependence, what can you do to help them?
Identify the Signs of Alcoholism
First, you need to identify the signs of alcoholism. Some signs are visible and common, but there are subtle hints, too. One is drinking alone. If your family member used to drink with friends and then starts to drink alone, they might be going through a personal problem or intentionally keeping their habit a secret. If they continue to drink alone and more frequently, they might be on the road to alcohol abuse.
Another sign is making excuses for always wanting to drink. They cite relaxation or de-stressing as reasons. The opposite of ‘secret drinking,’ this behavior is likely due to guilt that they are doing something the family doesn’t know. However, they don’t want you suspecting, so they make excuses.
Other signs include a change in appearance, hanging out with a different group of people, temporary blackouts, mood swings, short-term memory loss, ignoring responsibilities, and physical weakness when unable to drink.
Understand the Triggers and Remove Them
Alcohol dependence happens when excessive drinking causes changes in the chemical makeup of the brain. The act of drinking increases the pleasure a drinker feels, which attracts them more to alcohol. It’s a cycle that keeps on repeating and has very little chance of ending without intervention.
Other risk factors are:
- Drinking more than five glasses per day or more than 12 glasses per week
- Alcohol disorder in the family
- Regular exposure to alcohol
- Low self-esteem
- Mental health problems
- High level of stress
- Peer pressure
Once you know the triggers, try to keep your senior family member away from them. For instance, don’t stock beer or liquor, don’t host a drinking spree at home, refrain from drinking as a form of stress-reliever when they’re around, and always keep their spirits up.
Many older adults have developed mental health problems because of retirement and isolation. They used to get their self-confidence and sense of accomplishment from their work and kids, but now they’re empty-nesters and often idle. This situation can drive them to binge drink and abuse alcohol. It would help if you dug into the root of their issues. If they feel lonely or useless, help them become productive and useful by participating in community activities or passion projects.
Encourage Them to Seek Professional Help
Don’t wait for the worst to happen. As soon as you know for sure that they’re alcohol-dependent, convince your family member that alcohol rehab and treatment will take away all the negative feelings and make things right again. Alcohol-abuse individuals will always be in denial of their addiction; be creative in persuading them. Be gentle but firm. Choose an excellent rehab place that you can visit regularly. And be with them when they decide to opt-in.
Your alcohol-dependent senior parent or family member is vulnerable, but they likely won’t admit it. Help them deal with their addiction by suggesting intervention or making sure they’re away from risk factors.