Although serving as a caregiver for an aging in place elderly loved one is highly rewarding, it can also be very emotionally and physically demanding. As a result, some informal caregivers turn to alcohol as a means to self-medicate while dealing with caregiver stress.  But once a family caregiver starts relying on alcohol more and more it can interfere with their ability to provide the care that’s needed. If allowed to progress, alcohol abuse will eventually place the health and wellbeing of both parties at risk. 

Why Do Family Caregivers Abuse Alcohol?

At any given time roughly 10% of all family caregivers battle substance abuse issues and alcohol is usually involved.

These are the most common reasons why informal caregivers abuse alcohol:

  • Fear and anxiety because they don’t feel like they’re doing a good job
  • Stress from feeling overwhelmed by caregiving responsibilities
  • Bitterness towards a sibling or other family member
  • Battling insomnia brought on by worrying
  • Depression as they witness the decline of their loved one
  • Physical pain resulting from a caregiving injury
  • Feeling isolated from the outside world
  • Anger directed towards the care recipient

Furthermore, those who care for seniors with Alzheimer’s or any other form of dementia are at higher risk to develop an alcohol dependency.

Signs of Caregiver Alcohol Dependency 

In most cases, alcohol abuse starts with a glass of wine or a few beers to relax and relieve stress. Within a few weeks or months, one or two drinks turns into four or five. Before they even realize it, the caregiver is frequently drinking alone and more often.

Some of the classic signs of alcohol dependency include:

  • Feeling agitated towards everything and everyone
  • Lethargy and sleepiness that won’t seem to go away
  • Being quick to anger and slow to calm down
  • Weight gain or weight loss that wasn’t intentional
  • Using alcohol as a means to make it through the day
  • Financial problems and an inability to justify expenditures
  • Feeling anxious and depressed most of the time

Alcohol Abuse Prevention Tips for Caregivers 

If you feel that you are becoming dependent on alcohol here are some reliable ways to keep it from getting worse:

Be honest with yourself

While being completely honest with yourself do an inventory of your feelings and behaviors. Are you drinking a lot more than you were a month ago? Can you make it through a day without stopping by the liquor store? Have others noticed your drinking- including your care recipient?

Admitting that you have a substance abuse problem is a big first step. Next, share your concerns with others, like a close friend, religious leader or spouse, and ask for their support.

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