How To Help A Senior With Alcoholism

How To Help A Senior With Alcoholism

The nature of alcoholism means that there are few differences between trying to help a senior with alcoholism .v. helping someone in earlier years.


The major challenge in assisting anyone with alcohol addiction is usually at the start of the process – overcoming denial, and helping someone actually *want* to get better.


Denial manifests as the initial lack of acceptance or admission that the individual has a problem with alcohol, and the lack of desire to get better from it.


But for someone to have reached a place where this is possible – where it is possible to continue to exist in this circumstance – they usually must be assisted by others.


What I mean is, unintentionally.


After all, what chronic alcoholic do you know has been capable of maintaining the habit for decades, keeping that financially viable, and living a functional life, with a relationship, perhaps childrem etc?


It’s not possible to do that for any length of time alone.


The brutal truth is that alcoholism is a diease of denial, but more accurately – lack of responsibility.


What do most alcoholics who do recovery successfully, do? How do they make the journey from uncontrolled addiction, to a life back in control?


The answer is they have to stand up and take a ton of responsibility for the effects of the events in their lives, and deal with it.


That is the truth.


We can augment it and soften it, and achieve that over time, with supported living, supported accommodation, supported x, y, z.


But the process and the journey remains the same.


None of us are responsible entirely, for the events which happen to us. But we are repsonsible for the effects of those events, and how we deal with them.


This doesn’t mean people do not deserve support on that journey. In fact, the opposite is true.


Individuals having undergone extreme trauma and difficulty in their lives deserve support and assistance to get back on their feet, resume taking responsibility in their lives, and change the meanings they have attached to old events, in order to help them achieve that.


So the next time you consider yourself “helping” an alcoholic – consider again whether you are truly helping them get better, or whether you may be fuelling their denial, or lack of willingness to get better.


How do you help someone *want* to get better from alcoholism?

Another brutal truth here – usually, you don’t.

Sure, there are companies who offer intervention services with the promise of helping your loved one get into an addiction treatment clinic etc but the truth is that anyone who enters rehab can leave voluntarily, if they wish.


Rehab clinics are not mental health units, and if your loved one wants to leave treatment, they can (and will).


Sure, there are ways to emotionally connect your loved one or senior you’re caring for, with the potential positive elements of being in recovery, and the potential pain of continuing in alcoholism.


But the speed of their decision, the nature of their decision, and when they reach that, is up to them.


If you act beyond that, once again you are taking responsibility for someone who needs to take responsibility for themselves. And you must ask yourself if this is really wise, or likely to contribute to another person’s development of their own sense of responsibility.


It’s commendable to encourage, to motivate, to speak positively of the benefits of getting into addiction recovery.


It’s understandable to want the best for your loved one, to want them to get better.


It’s quite different to try to take responsibility for them, or to attempt to force them into treatment at a time they don’t want to, or against their wishes.


Usually this will result in a detox alone, followed by self-discharge, and a continuation of the pattern of alcoholism.


With all this being said. There is always hope.


If you do want to take responsibility, if you are ready to get better, if no-one has forced you into it, it is never too late to start a recovery journey, no matter your age, wisdom, denial, or other factors.


The Stigma Of Addiction For Seniors

The Stigma Of Addiction For Seniors

Recovering from an addiction that has taken away most of your functional life is difficult enough at the best of times, without having the stigma and judgement of addiction in older people, on top.

There is a growing number of older people, aged 65+, stuck in a circle of addiction, through no fault of their own.


Often they have become addicted to prescription medication or other opiates as a result of pain management medication prescribed following a medical procedure, or a physician prescribing acute pain relieving medication for chronic conditions common in older people, such as arthritis, or other mobility issues.

We have to take into account – sometimes the slower physiology and metabolism in older people does contribute to the likelihood of developing addiction.


This is especially dangerous of course, where patients are quickly discharged from operations or major procedures and instructed to self-medicate at home, for the rest of their medication, as the beds in hosptial are in such short supply.


Addiction in seniors is rarely spoken of, and something many of us would prefer to pretend didn’t exist.


Let’s not pretend though – that they get to escpae any of the normal responsibilities that the rest of the community have, when deciding to overcome addiction.

They still have to:

– Take responsibility for their addiction, actions, and the consequences of those actions.
– Understand how they arrived in a place of addiction to alcohol or drugs in the first place
– Recognise the situations in life that prompt bingeing behaviour into alcohol or drugs, and come up with better coping mechanisms.
– Get support along the way to deal with all of this.

Attempting to do this, while staying sober, and not jumping to conclusions about judgements and opinions thrown at you along the way, is a challenge.

While recovery and the 12 step model are supposed to be welcoming, judgement-free lifestyles, the reality is sometimes slightly different.


Older people in recovery can be challenged by the following areas.


Their Own Embarrassment
The “regular” guilt and shame levels alcoholics possess, just to admit they are addicted and have a problem – is monumental, as the denial and other secondary psychological elements conspire to hold on to the coping behaviour called alcohol or drugs.

So for older folks, this is overwhelming, as the realisation of the negative impact of their behaviour, on grandchildren, thier own children, and others around them, can become overwhelming when completing an alcohol or drug detox, and the psychological issues begin to surface, unabated.


Physical Issues
Everything involving physical mobility is more difficult, in our older years. This is a fact of life, and will come to us all.

Sometimes this means not being able to attend an AA or NA meeting where and when it might be best to. Sometimes it means being unable to admit to the right alcohol and drugs treatment clinic, best suited for your needs.


Sometimes this means missing out on getting the right sponsor, due to their location.

But maybe that sponsor would actually have been a whole lot better for your recovery.


Other times this might mean they’re unable to connect with the right therapy, counselling, or other aftercare support normally received after treatment.

An addict or alcoholic in this position must make some important, and honest distinctions.


If the compromises on options, treatment, aftercare, or support available, are being made for genuine reasons of mobility, geographic location, or inability to travel, then we can allow ourselves this.

However if they’re being used as an excuse (and let’s face it everyone in addiction has a learned tendecny to make excuses) then we have to recognise this and deal with it.


Putting alternative supports in place when real-world limitations exist is ok.

Avoiding responsibility in your recovery, under the guise of other excuses, is not.


Recovery Times
Older people will inevitably have a longer physical recovery time, during withdrawal, detox, and even just processing regular prescription medication they require on a day-to-day basis.

This can mean that any kind of reducing, or tapered detox that a physician may prescribe, has to be a little slower, and less aggressive, to allow the liver and other parts of the system, recover a little more gradually.


Sometimes this slower physiology also means moving from detox to therapy work a little slower than other folks, and spending a greater percentage of time in physical recovery as opposed to moving quickly into therapeutic recovery.

This can be extended further depending on the duration and recency of usage. An older person who has been using an opiate medication for 10+ years will of course take longer to detox comfortably than someone on only a minor dose for less than a few months, for example.



Just to keep things balanced, next time we’ll talk about all the positive of being older and in addiction recovery 🙂

Addiction Recovery For Seniors

Addiction Recovery For Seniors

Besides the differing physical effects of alcohol and drugs on seniors to begin with, there is also a differing effect during physical and chemical withdrawal, and detox also.


This affects, e.g.

– How long it takes to successfully detox, from alcohol or drugs
– Recovery time to complete psychological detox, i.e. time to feel emotionally ready to tackle the psycho-educational elements of addiction recovery
– Increased risks of complication during detox for seniors, based on how the body reacts to the depleted amount of alcohol/drugs in the system, within a short time-frame.
– Willingness to look closely at one’s personal history with addiction, and to tackle the deeper issues, that may be causal, in the addiction establishing itself in life, over time.


Whilst these issues can complicate treatment for seniors to recover from addiction in rehab, they are not necessarily prohibitive.

A competent facility, with a skilled medical team, can usually tailor their approach to the needs of the individual, their recovery rate, and indeed in some cases even anticipate how an in individual may react during detox, dependent on experience.


The key issues in addiction recovery for seniors, are no different than any other age group:

– Are you ready and willing to get better? To accept your shortcomings, own them, and remedy them, over time?
– Are you willing to take responsibility for your addiction, and it’s negative consequences, to this point?
– Are you prepared, physically and emotionally, for long-term abstinence from alcohol or drugs?