Your parents are unique, and you may feel as though you know them intimately. Seeing them slide into addictive patterns can fill you with a sense of disappointment or rage. That’s understandable, but it’s also not helpful.
To rescue the people you love, you must know more about why they use. And it’s useful to know that you’re not alone.
Your parents face challenges with each candle they add to their birthday cakes. They may feel:
- Isolated. How many funerals has your parent attended in the last year? Each celebration of life means one less friend or loved one your parent can lean on.
- Cash-strapped. Social Security checks may not cover every bill that appears in the mailbox. As debt mounts and no income appears, the problem grows.
- Painful. Sore joints, aching heads, and damaged teeth can be excruciating. Self-medicating with substances can seem like a good solution.
- Uncomfortable. The shift from parent to grandparent to great-grandparent isn’t easy for some people. Each role has unique associated tasks. Even if your parents don’t want to change, the outside world will force them to.
Older adults can use any substance. Pain pills, marijuana, and prescription mood enhancers could all be on your parent’s shopping list. But researchers say alcohol is the drug of choice among this age group.
About 22 percent of older adults have alcohol issues, researchers say, but they often go unnoticed. Smaller servings have a bigger impact as organs and metabolisms shift with age. If you’re counting drinks, you may believe your parents don’t take in too much. But when each sip packs a bigger punch every year, the issue starts to become clear.
Often, older adults with substance abuse issues were young people who drank too much or used too many drugs, researchers say. It’s rare for an older adult to spontaneously develop a problem when there was none before.
That means your parents might have decades of bad habits to break, and the consequences are just catching up with them. They will need your help to turn the corner and start a new life.