Alcoholism and Aging
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the
courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the
difference. Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time,
accepting hardship as the pathway to peace; taking, as he did, this
sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that he will
make all things right if I surrender to his will; that I may be
reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with him forever
in the next. Amen.
Alcoholism in a family is a touchy subject. Denial is one of the
most common symptoms of the disease. To make matters worse, many
older people think that alcoholism is simply a moral weakness and
not a disease.
In fact, an older body has more difficulty processing alcohol. Maybe
your loved one has only been a social drinker, but as he advances in
years, the same amount of alcohol packs more of a wallop, and its
effects last longer, because his tolerance level has dropped. A
second factor is medication. Many older people take a variety of
medications that shouldn’t be combined with alcohol. An older person
may also come to rely on the numbing effect of alcohol to deal with
pain. While alcohol seems to dull both physical and emotional pain,
it eventually compounds both.
Society has a better net for catching the younger alcoholic. The
police stop him for drunk driving. The boss notices an employee’s
productivity is down at work. A husband or wife spots a spouse’s
problem and courageously speaks up. But an elderly person may not be
driving anymore, is probably retired, and could be a widow or
widower. The older person doesn’t have to get up the next morning
and face an employer. A widow doesn’t have anyone else in the house
or apartment to raise a question or an eyebrow as, day by day, the
bottle is brought out earlier and earlier.
The temptation for adult children is to ignore the situation. It’s
bound to cause a fight, and maybe you’re simply overreacting. After
all, Dad doesn’t have that much time left. Shouldn’t his final years
or months be happy ones? Drinking seems to be his only pleasure.
Experts on alcoholism answer those concerns this way: First, if you
suspect a problem, there probably is one. It will only get worse.
And second, your care-receiver is not happy. An alcoholic who
is drinking is not a happy person. Those final years or months will
not be happy for him or her if the drinking continues. In fact,
drinking may be shortening your loved one’s life. It’s chipping away
at his or her health and increasing the risk of accidents.
You need to keep an eye out for any warning signs of alcohol abuse:
mood swings; general confusion; increasing isolation; bruises from
bumping into furniture or falling; burns from falling asleep with a
lit cigarette; a lot of empty bottles leaving the house; and
"nesting," making one spot, usually a comfortable lounge chair, an
entire world, with cigarettes, ashtray, TV remote, glass, and bottle
within reach. Keep in mind that mood swings, confusion, and
isolation can be caused by many things. But if you decide that your
loved one has a drinking problem, you need to get professional help.
Tell a doctor, nurse, or social worker about your concerns. All too
often, if a family member doesn’t raise the issue, it remains
Al-Anon is there to help your family. Alcoholics Anonymous,
especially groups for older people, may help your care-receiver.
It can be very difficult to bring up the subject of alcoholism with
your loved one. Do some research and learn about alcohol and aging.
Be prepared to give accurate information and have resource
information ready. At this point in your relationship, there may not
be a better way to show how much you love him or her.
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