I’m preparing for a presentation at the National Substance Abuse Conference this week and as I review my research on aging and addiction I thought that some of this information might be helpful to folks in long-term recovery.
This information is relevant if you—or a family member—will be involved in the care of someone who is aging. And that, of course, is probably all of us.
According to Juan Harris at The Hanley Center in Palm Beach, addiction among seniors and relapse among caregivers is a new pandemic. Caregivers of people with chronic illness can quite easily become addicts or suffer a relapse if they have earlier struggled with an addiction.
Caregivers are faced with several of the key ingredients in a recipe for addiction: They are home, feel trapped, they feel a lot of unspoken resentment (this is not the retirement they anticipated, “I did not sign up for this.”) Also caregivers are often shamed by being “sainted” so they can’t express the anger or resentment they feel when caring for a sick spouse. And they may have easy access to drugs and alcohol.
The most prescribed medications for seniors are the Benzodiazepines: Valium, Zanex, Ambien etc. (These drugs mimic the symptoms of dementia so an addiction can be missed in the patient and in the caregiver.)
Exacerbating the situation--family and friends often will cut caregivers a break: “His wife has Alzheimer’s he deserves his drinks at night.” “She has to do all that physical care of her husband—yeah she needs to get her sleep.” And they may not be driving so they don’t face the natural interventions like car accidents or DWI.
Furthermore adult children are not around and so they only see aging parents on occasion. Natural interventions may be avoided because it would mean that the adult children have to take over caregiving. This contributes to the likelihood of ignoring addiction or just saying, “Hey Mom try to drink a little less, Ok?”
There are certain key risk periods for older adult addiction or relapse:
Men at retirement (now also women who had long careers).
Women when children move away.
When a spouse dies.
When a spouse has chronic dementia (the care and the loneliness).
Consider this information as you talk as a family, when you suspect dementia, when there are medication errors and especially when there is a family history of addiction of any kind.