It can be difficult to convince your parent to seek addiction treatment, especially when they deny that their substance use is an issue. Older adults are more likely than younger people to be in denial about an alcohol problem, largely due to a combination of factors that include generation, gender, religion and culture.
Even if your parent acknowledges that a problem exists, they may be very reluctant to get help for it. Many aging adults are sensitive to the stigma attached to addiction and other mental illnesses and don’t want to be labeled an “alcoholic” or an “addict”. They also may lack transportation, support or adequate health insurance.
None of this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t try. The more you do try, and the more support your parent has from you, the more likely it is that they’ll get the help they need to recover.
Step 1: Educate Yourself
Addiction is a complex disease that changes brain structures and functions and affects thought patterns and behaviors. Before you can help your parent, it’s essential that you learn all you can about addiction, including its common underlying causes and how it’s diagnosed and treated. The National Institute on Drug Abuse is a helpful resource for accurate, up-to-date information about addiction, and it’s a good place to start.
Step 2: Talk to Your Parent
You’ve probably had the conversation before, but maybe it’s time to try again. Let your parent know that you’re worried. Point out specific examples of how the addiction is affecting you and others in the family. Tell them what you know about addiction, and reassure them it is considered a medical problem—and that treatment works.
Step 3: Talk to Your Parent’s Physician
If you can’t get through to your parent, consider a conversation with their doctor. Older adults are more likely to accept a doctor’s diagnosis of addiction rather than take your word for it. Unfortunately, aging adults are drastically under-diagnosed for addiction by the medical community for a variety of reasons. Consider discussing your concerns with the doctor ahead of your parent’s next appointment to ensure the right questions are asked.
However, be aware that because of the stigma older adults sometimes tend to place on mental illness and addiction, many will be reluctant to admit to symptoms. Symptoms could include certain thoughts, such as feelings of anxiety or depression, or behaviors, such as compulsive drinking, and these may be central to an accurate diagnosis.
Step 4: Consider an Intervention
An intervention is a surprise meeting between an addicted individual and their closest friends and family, who try to convince their loved one to get treatment for an addiction. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence notes that 90 percent of interventions facilitated by a professional are successful. Talk to an addiction counselor or other mental health professional about whether an intervention might be right for your family’s situation.
Step 5: Hold on to Hope
Whether your parent agrees to treatment or not, the road ahead probably won’t be easy. However, if you can help your parent enjoy long-term recovery, it will have been worth it. And if you can’t, you will know you tried. But don’t give up hope, which is the foundation of recovery. Hope is the belief that a better future is possible, and if you continue to believe your parent can get better, the more likely they are to recover.
Either way, counseling and support groups for family members of an addicted individual are important, whether or not that person is seeking treatment. Therapy and support not only help you address the indelible effects addiction has had on your life, but they also help you better support your parent. Understanding addiction and getting help for yourself increases the chances that you’ll eventually be able to convince your parent to seek addiction treatment.
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