When it comes to having “the talk” about the risks and dangers of drugs and alcohol, parents understandably tend to focus on having that conversation with their kids.
Increasingly, however, it seems parents need to be having this conversation with their aging parents as well.
According to a new WellCare survey, “The Tough Talk: Aging Parents and Substance Abuse,” 90 percent of adults say they have discussed the risks and consequences of overusing/misusing/abusing drugs and alcohol with their children, while only 68 percent of adults have had that same conversation with a parent, stepparent or parent-in-law.
Despite not necessarily having this important conversation, parents are concerned about their aging parents’ use of substances and, in the case of prescription drugs, 51 percent of all adults polled are now more concerned about the risks of prescription drug abuse among their aging parents than their children.
The daunting issue, however, is that nearly two-thirds of those polled feel less equipped to help their parents with problems of abuse than they are to help their kids. On top of this, parents may not know the signs of substance abuse, with a full 75 percent of adults admitting they believe it’s possible to mistake signs of overuse/misuse/abuse of prescription drugs and alcohol for normal behaviors of aging.
According to Kevin Middleton, Psy.D., vice president of behavioral health at WellCare, there are certain questions adult children should ask themselves concerning their aging parents’ susceptibility to substance abuse. For instance:
- Have there been any major changes in life, such as the death of a spouse?
- Does your parent seem lonely or depressed? Do they want to be alone more often than usual?
- Does your parent fill a prescription for the same medicine at two different pharmacies?
- Does your parent often appear confused or forgetful?
- Has your parent been on the same prescription for years? Do they have access to multiple months’ worth of opioids or other painkillers?
If you suspect your parent may have an issue with prescription drugs or alcohol, consider the following action steps:
- Be Honest. Talk to your parents about your concerns, and ask pointed questions:
- What prescription drugs are you currently taking?
- How long have you been taking those prescription drugs?
- How many alcoholic drinks do you have per day?
- Be Proactive. Call their primary care doctor to discuss your concerns.
- Seek Help. Call SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing behavioral health and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups and community-based organizations.
Executive Summary: “The Tough Talk: Aging Parents and Substance Abuse”
Survey Infographic: The Tough Talk