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Dealing with an Elderly Parent's Alcoholism - Aging Wisely

drinking problem in elderly parent

Are you concerned about increasing drinking in your elderly parent? Has your senior loved one had falls or other health and safety concerns, possibly related to drinking? Did you find out after a recent hospitalization that your elder relative was suffering from withdrawal?

Concerns over drinking are often hidden or overlooked in the older population for a variety of reasons. But, when you become aware of a concern or realize that something really needs to be done, where do you turn and how can you get your loved one help?

First, let’s dispel a couple myths about alcoholism in seniors:

  1. An elderly person is too old and settled to change his/her ways. Older people actually have the highest recovery rates of any age group.You can “teach an old dog new tricks” and because of the particularly negative effects of drinking on elders (and long-term drinking), elders can experience many benefits from giving up drinking. Family support has been shown to be one of the biggest factors in success.
  2. It wouldn’t be fair to take away this pleasure from Mom/Dad (or he/she needs the alcohol to deal with pain, loss, or declining health). Alcohol is a depressant, so there is every likelihood that drinking is not bringing happiness to the person. When older adults give up drinking, it not only improves health and safety but they also overwhelmingly express positive sentiments about their new happiness and better life.
  3. Dad’s functioned all his life this way; what’s the point of intervening now? The effects of long-term drinking and the compounding effects of age, health and medications mean that drinking is especially problematic for the older adult. Some older adults also begin drinking more heavily after losses or due to other life events so drinking may be more of a problem than ever. Even at a late age, recovery could provide better health and quality of life for the person’s remaining years.

Hazelden, a non-profit recovery organization, offers a great tip sheet about talking to older loved ones and getting help. They provide general guidelines to keep in mind, along with specific examples/sample wording.

We also recommend considering a geriatric care management assessment in this process. This can be done as an overall health and well-being assessment, which can confirm your concerns and help you get a better picture of the situation. Then, the care manager can assist you in presenting the information to your loved one and having a conversation about the concerns and options. Having an outside party provides perspective and an expert can provide guidance about best approaches. Or, an assessment can be a suggested starting point. The assessment can serve as a neutral, professional evaluation of the drinking in context of the person’s overall health and lifestyle. For help with the best ways to get this conversation started, our Senior Care Consultant does complimentary phone or in-person consultations.

It is best to be prepared for the conversation rather than having an impromptu confrontation. You can read up on the suggestions above and/or talk to a professional yourself. You may want to attend an Al-Anon or other family support group. Denial is one symptom of addiction, so it is quite possible your attempts to help may be rebuffed or dismissed. If there aren’t immediate health and safety dangers, you may need to approach your loved one again at a later time, or plan a more formal intervention or get outside help.

If your loved one is open to help, there are programs and counselors that have experience working with older adults (or are particularly designed for elders). The Hanley Center in Florida is a pioneer in older adult and generation-specific programs. Any intervention for an elderly parent should go hand-in-hand with a comprehensive plan. A full assessment and care plan should address the person’s holistic needs, including health, safety, medications, emotional well-being, support, cognitive issues, and more.

Contact Aging Wisely at 727-447-5845 to discuss your concerns, find resources and get help for any caregiving and aging issues. We’re here to help!


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