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Is My Parent an Alcoholic?

When you are an adult child, you don’t spend the sort of time with your parents that you used to. You have many more responsibilities and obligations than you did as a child and your parents understand.

But, sometimes when you get to see your folks, you might be surprised by changes or confronted by behaviors that feel like a surprise. Suspecting a parent of alcoholism feels like this. Are you imagining it?

The reality is that seniors often find themselves with substance use disorders, which is shocking because our society doesn’t project that image of people that age. That is part of the reason that the rise in substance abuse among adults 60 and older is called an invisible epidemic.

Parent an Alcoholic

Alcoholism can exacerbate memory problems in older adults.

As Baby Boomers edge into old age and medical advances allow people to live longer, that age group will steadily grow larger. As the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) notes, “In 1990, 13 percent of Americans were over 65; by 2030, that bloc will represent 21 percent of the population.” The substance abuse among people in this age group will become harder and harder to ignore.

Your parent could very well be suffering from an addiction to drug and/or alcohol—prescription medication and alcohol are the most likely culprits. But, how can you know for certain. What follows are some possible indicators of alcoholism, but you should contact experts, as well. Our admissions coordinators can serve as that expert. They can help you to understand your parent’s addiction and help you to get him or her into treatment. Call 800-683-3270.

The Dangers

It is important for you, firstly, to recognize the risks your parent faces if you ignore their possible alcoholism. You may be tempted to assume they can handle it on their own because they are your parents, but your parents need you and this isn’t a time to fall into denial or justification.

The most obvious risk comes from the mixing of alcohol and medications. People age 60 and over are the most likely to be prescribed meds and mixing prescriptions, over the counter medications, and even herbal or homeopathic ones is dangerous. It can even be deadly.  The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) asserts the following medications mix poorly with alcohol:

  • Acetaminophen
  • Allergy and cold medicine
  • Aspirin
  • Cough syrup
  • Depression or anxiety medicine
  • Pain meds
  • Sleeping treatments

Older adults are also more sensitive to alcohol, so the negative consequences of drinking may manifest with smaller than expected amounts. Their limited tolerance can lead to higher risk of car crashes, falls, and other unintentional injuries. These risks also take more of a toll on an aging body.

Heavy drinking can also complicate conditions that are common among older adults, like congestive heart failure, diabetes, high blood pressure, liver problems, memory problems, mood disorders, and osteoporosis.

Your parent should not be running these risks. Instead, they should be receiving addiction treatment.

7 Things that You Can Do to Deal with a Loved One Suffering From Alcoholism and Alcohol Related Dementia

How Much Drinking Is OK?

One way to assess whether or not your parent is an alcoholic is to monitor their intake. Although this can be difficult when you don’t live with them. You may end up checking their garbage and recycling for evidence of amounts being consumed. Or, you can just ask them.

The NIAAA cautions people over 65 to not have more than 3 drinks on any given day and no more than seven drinks in a week. Again, medication my make these numbers lower or mean that no amount of alcohol is OK.

Questions to Ask

If you have an open relationship, you may simply be able to ask your mom or dad the following. In less open relationships, you need to answer them yourself using your observations and intuition.

  • Does your parent continue undesirable drinking patterns and behaviors?
  • Does your parent have personality changes and/or compromise their values when drunk?
  • Does your parent seem to be preoccupied by the next drinking opportunity?
  • Does your parent defend drinking to relieve stress or use it as a reward (i.e for a hard day)?
  • Does a single alcoholic beverage cause your parent’s cravings to begin?
  • Does your parent keep drinking even after they have experienced negative consequences?

If you now feel it is likely that your mother or father has an alcohol use disorder, they need structured, professional treatment and we can help you find a program that will work with them and the issues that are specific to people in their age group. Just call 800-683-3270.