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home | Diseases/Conditions | The Elderly Alcoholic

The Elderly Alcoholic

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Of course everyone "knows" that someone with an alcohol problem has to "hit bottom" before alcohol treatment or alcohol intervention will help. While of course this is patently untrue, it can certainly be beyond difficult to get someone who has been drinking for decades to accept help.

Unless there has been a medical emergency that limits access to alcohol, or unless a court has ordered mandatory treatment, you can't force anyone with a drinking problem to accept treatment for alcohol abuse. But there are several things you can do that, with persistence, often will result in an alcoholic accepting treatment help.

1. Before you do anything else, gather all the information you can find about treatment options, costs, locations, and possible waiting lists. While some residential treatment centers may be wildly expensive, many community options are low cost. Medical treatment options may be fully or partially covered by Medicare. Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are always free.

2. Stop covering up for the alcoholic. The embarrassment you may feel for the person who is drinking is his or hers, not yours. Most people who know you are not fooled by excuses and cover-ups. Whether it be physically, financially, socially or legally, an alcoholic must begin to experience all of the unpleasant consequences of drinking. It may be especially difficult for an elderly spouse to stop cover-up behavior that may have gone on for decades. This spouse will need as much, or more, support as the partner who is drinking.

3. If you want to have a conversation, or an "intervention," with an elderly alcoholic, it is especially important to choose a time when he or she is as sober as possible. Plan to speak in privacy, and plan to be as specific as you can about your concerns. Be prepared to present several examples of how his or her drinking behavior has caused problems for both himself and other family members. The alcoholic will probably seek to involve you in an argument about the "truth" of what you are describing. Remain calm, and refuse to participate in any argument or twisted thinking.

4. Some people do not feel comfortable or safe confronting an alcoholic in private. They would prefer to have the support of other family members or friends for what is oftwn called an "intervention."  An intervention with a problem drinker can easily backfire without the support of an experienced professional. Seek out a health care professional with documented experience to help you.

5. Before you begin, be prepared with consequences. Know what you will do, or won't do, if your elderly alcoholic will not accept responsibility and agree to get help. Your goal with these consequences is not to force the alcoholic into treatment, but to protect yourself and others from the damage that his or her continued drinking can cause. Many people refuse to ride with a driver who is still drinking, even if he or she appears to be sober at the moment. Declining to participate in social events where a drinker will have access to alcohol is common. If the drinker tends to become physically or emotionally abusive, or if there are children in the home, some family members make arrangements to move out. And, of course, there is to be no purchasing of alcohol for the problem drinker. When it comes to consequences you must be ready, able and prepared to enforce your boundaries immediately.

6. Acknowledge that you and other family members need just as much support as the drinker. Give thought to joining a support group such as Al-Anon for adult family members, or Alateen for the children of alcoholics. A family therapist with experience working with the families of alcoholics can offer important help and support.

7. Remember that it often takes many attempts before an alcoholic is willing to discuss even the possibility of looking for help. The older the drinker, and the longer drinking has been out of control, the more difficult this process can be. Lest they forget in a moment of twisted thinking, friends and family members must continually remind themselves that, no matter how the alcoholic may twist the facts, they are in no way responsible for someone else's drinking behavior. Taking care of themselves should always be their first priority.

Alcoholics Anonymous:   http://www.aa.org

Al-Anon and Alateen:   http://www.al-anon.alateen.org/

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