As of 2006, approximately 2.5 million adults over 50 had a substance use disorder, a number that was projected to nearly double by 2020. As an adult child, watching your father or mother struggle with drugs and alcohol can be scary, frustrating, and sad. Maybe your parent’s substance use is nothing new, or maybe they have just recently started to show signs of dependence.
How to Recognize Substance Use Disorder
Recognizing that a parent has a problem with drugs or alcohol isn’t always easy, especially if you don’t live with or near them. However, when you talk or visit with them, you can look for the following signs that might point to a substance use disorder:
- They run out of prescription drugs too soon, especially painkillers
- They receive speeding or motor vehicle citations
- Their personal hygiene is declining
- They are withdrawn or isolating themselves more than usual
- They are experiencing memory problems more than usual
- They are uncharacteristically irritable or depressed
Sometimes it’s difficult to tell if these signs point to age, depression, grief, chronic pain, or substance use disorder. If you notice one or more of these behaviors, though, you’ll know to start paying closer attention and to ask questions.
Open the Conversation in a Positive Manner
If you are concerned that your parent may be overusing drugs, alcohol, or prescription drugs, open a discussion. Talk to them about what you’re seeing. Tell them it worries you. Talk about how their behavior impacts you. Try to stay positive, showing them that you want to help.
When they are ready to listen to you and to admit that they are struggling, talk about treatment programs that can help them to stop using. Look at treatment program websites together. Be prepared to help them contact a treatment center or meet with an addiction counselor or healthcare professional to talk about options.
Be encouraging, but also set boundaries. You may need to monitor their driving or limit the time they spend with your own children. You may need to, when possible, manage their medication for them to ensure they are taking it as prescribed.
When Your Parent Will Not Listen to You
Your parent may respond to your questions and concerns with anger and denial. Maybe they don’t think they have a problem. Maybe they feel unable to stop using and don’t want to bother trying. Maybe they think they can handle it themselves. Maybe they’ll argue that they have always used alcohol or drugs and it’s never been a problem before. In that case, you might want to explain to them how alcohol and drugs affect older adults more quickly, and that they may no longer have the tolerance they used to.
Taking action is still possible even when they say no. Your parent may benefit from a drug or alcohol intervention. This is an opportunity to involve a professional counselor who can help your family assess the situation, answer your questions, and help you communicate with each other with respect and compassion.
Remember to take care of yourself and protect your own space throughout this process. Yes, you want to help your parent. But ultimately, your parent’s health is their responsibility. Offer the support you can, put them in touch with professionals who can help them, and be honest about how much time you are able and willing to support them. You may also benefit from working with a therapist who can help you process the situation and know when and how much to be involved.
Taking that First Step Is the Hardest
If you’re scared or unable to open up the conversation with your parent, don’t do it alone. Work with our team, who can arrange a consultation and a comprehensive intervention to help your loved one begin their journey to a healthier, happier life.