Alcoholism in adults ages 65 and older is more common than you might think. The struggles of caring for aging alcoholic parents are familiar to a growing number of adults in the United States.
Alcohol is the most used substance among adults age 65 and older. Additionally, alcohol use is increasing at a higher rate for people ages 50 and over. This data suggests that alcoholism in aging populations will continue to be a growing concern.
This post helps you better understand alcoholism. It also outlines strategies and tools you can use to show your care and support for your parent dealing with it.
Signs of Alcoholism in Aging Parents
Sometimes the warning signs of alcoholism in the aging population go unnoticed. Having lived much of their life learning to be independent and responsible for themselves, aging people may not readily ask for help when they suspect they need it.
Signs to look for if you’re concerned your parents might have alcoholism include:
- Sudden Behavioral Changes – These changes include increased aggression or irritability that you hadn’t previously noticed.
- Lying About or Hiding Alcohol Consumption – Being dishonest about alcohol use can be a hallmark sign of problematic consumption.
- Smell – A strong odor of alcohol can also allude to problematic drinking behavior.
- Unexplained Injuries or Bruises – These could be a sign of several things, but if alcohol use is becoming more frequent. The aging population might have more bruises and small injuries from losing balance due to consumption.
- Memory Issues – Issues unrelated to other neurological conditions can be a sign of alcohol use disorder.
- Isolation – Withdraw might occur because your parent wants to conceal their drinking or have more time to themselves to consume alcohol.
- Slurred Speech or Loss of Coordination – These can be signs of alcohol consumption and can cause injuries.
- Lack of Self-Care – Not taking care of themselves could suggest that alcohol use is leading to the inability to do so.
Some of these signs could indicate a different physical or mental health issue. But it’s essential to check in on your parent when anything out of the ordinary becomes more consistent.
Impact of Alcoholism and Aging
The aging population is at an increased risk for physical and mental health issues alike. Physical declines and medications for chronic health conditions can impact how the body absorbs alcohol.
Additionally, alcohol may affect people differently as they age. Drinking patterns in one’s 20s that remain similar in someone’s 60s can have vastly different consequences. So, even if a person maintains that they have “always done this,” the health consequences can change.
The aging population dealing with alcoholism could experience:
- Worsening Health Conditions – These conditions include the exacerbation of current conditions or the development of new ones.
- Impaired Safety – Alcohol can create safety concerns for them and those around them. Caring for children or driving under the influence can have serious consequences.
- Negative Interaction with Medications – Drug interactions often impact the aging population due to their increased likelihood of being on prescription medication.
- Dehydration – Dehydration due to alcohol use can lead to confusion and other health problems.
Any of these factors are cause for concern. But a combination of one or more might signify that it is time to seek treatment.
Supporting Your Alcoholic Parents
Perhaps you feel it’s your responsibility as the child of your aging parent to get them the care they need. While you can always express concern and support, remember, it’s not your fault if your parent chooses not to seek treatment or care. Simply expressing concern and empathy for your parent can increase their likelihood of seeking help.
Here are some ideas for how to support your parent through the process.
Talk to Your Parents
Having a frank conversation with your parent or parents is a great starting point. Think about what messages you want to get across before you approach your parent. You’ll feel more organized and efficient. Consider focusing on the impact their behavior has on the family.
Try to avoid shaming language such as “alcoholic” or “addict.” While your parent might fit into one of these categories, using this language can be hurtful. It also could lead to your parent’s refusal to seek services or an increased sense of isolation.
Remember to maintain patience and empathy during these conversations. Be specific. Let them know that you’re there for them during this process.
It’s also important to note that one conversation might not spark immediate change. The decision to seek support and treatment might take time and several conversations.
Connect Them to Treatment
There are various treatment options available for the aging population regarding alcohol use disorder and other mental health concerns. All Counseling offers a guide to therapists who specialize in aging populations. It is a great place to start looking for a treatment that best fits your parent’s needs.
Get the Support You Need
You might have the best intentions in caring for your parent who deals with alcoholism. But remember that they have to choose to pursue treatment. You can encourage and support them along the way, but ultimately, it’s their choice.
Dealing with the repercussions of an aging parent with alcoholism can be difficult. Make sure you’re getting the help you need. Reaching out to a counselor for individual therapy is an option. Various support groups with people going through similar issues also can provide validation and comfort.
All Counseling provides a comprehensive list of counselors where you can tailor your search to your area, desired specialty, insurance coverage, and more. Not sure where to begin? All Counseling can help get you started finding the right counselor for you.
How All Counseling Can Help
If you or someone you know is caring for aging alcoholic parents, All Counseling can connect you to a therapist to help. Caring for aging alcoholic parents can be emotionally challenging. You or anyone going through this challenge deserves empathetic mental health care. Search All Counseling’s therapist directory for a counselor for your parent or yourself.
Substance Use in Older Adults DrugFacts by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021). Retrieved 22 December 2021, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/substance-use-in-older-adults-drugfacts#ref.