This past week, we ran across an alarming headline in The Wall Street Journal. The famed financial paper took some time out to address a growing problem happening in this country. Though many are not aware of it, U.S. senior citizens have been seeing a sharp increase in alcohol abuse.
According to WSJ, over 3 million U.S. adults aged 65 and older are currently alcoholics. And worse yet, that stat is expected to nearly double by the year 2020.
Studies have uncovered a myriad of reasons as to why older Americans are falling prey to this addiction. Excuses often used are the “empty nest” syndrome, where parents feel lonely after their children leave home. It is also true that seniors have to deal with chronic pain more frequently and turn to drinking as a way to cope.
Worse yet, are the reactions this population receives when confronted with this problem. For starters, many family members may not even notice the symptoms. Issues like shaky hands, forgetfulness or stumbling may get associated with aging, when they are in fact signs of inebriation.
Additionally, it is said that family members are often uncomfortable bringing up the issue. Per the WSJ data, 22 percent of adult children fear angering their parents. One in five say they don’t even know how to address alcoholism with a parent.
Several examples were provided within the article, outlining high-functioning seniors who secretly consumed beer and wine away from family members. One 64-year-old neglected her babysitting duties because of her addiction, which led to a very close call with a young granddaughter.
One positive thing to come out the article was a breakout of discussion tips related to addicted older parents. Ideas listed included…
Stick to things you know can be verified, versus taking an accusatory approach or making an assumption. Avoid words like ‘alcoholic.’
Focus on the impact of substances on a loved one’s behavior and ability to function, as well as the relationships they care most about, including their grandchildren.
Write down talking points, including responses to parents’ objections. If a parent says drinking helps them relax, say there are healthier ways to relax, like taking a walk or reading. If they suggest it makes them feel better, note that alcohol is a depressant.
Be patient. If a parent gets angry or defensive, step back and bring up the conversation later.
Be respectful. Treat a parent as an adult.
Seek out help. If you do suspect a substance-abuse problem, contact the parent’s health-care provider and discuss the best approach to getting appropriate treatment.