Caregiver Support, Substance Abuse

Support for Substance Abuse and the Three Ds

Caregivers and their Careés are especially vulnerable when it comes to substance abuse. The prolonged exposure to the stress of caring for—or being cared for—inevitably causes damage to heart and health. Care—needing it or providing  it—can be, and usually is, physically and emotionally draining. It’s exhausting. Feelings of hopelessness are a common companion. Despair leads to depression. Depression leads to self-medication. Combine this with a tendency for a poor diet augmented by over-the-counter ‘supplements’ that often cause adverse reactions with prescribed medications, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Despair – Depression – Disaster. The Three ‘Ds. A difficult situation (caregiving) often runs that D-D-D  gamut until the only viable solution is addiction therapy. For a caregiver, so immersed in the needs of their Careé, weekly one-hour counseling sessions can be helpful, but these are soon overshadowed by the reality of the 24/7 tasks that consume thought and time.  Between sessions, the therapy-recipient is back on that D-D-D treadmill, assuming they ever stepped off it at all. Pills, booze, and injectables become our friends.

The Three Ds also present a serious problem for seniors, those whose health is compromised by merely having lived so long, and whose emotional state compromised by loneliness. Physical limitations tend to impair social activity. Friends die, move away, become less accessible. Family members have their own issues, and distance themselves to address them. Socialization, once taken for granted, now becomes an ordeal, with diminishing options.  Trips to the doctor become an anticipated social outing, because there is someone there who seems to care, someone to talk to besides talking to the TV, at home, alone. Check out the waiting room next time you visit. What do you see? Too many lonley, ‘old’ people waiting for someone to talk to.  D-D-D.

Most of them have that handy, compartmented pill box, which holds all their daily doses. As the years go by, the box gets bigger and the joys of living get smaller. It’s easier to pop a pill and wash it down with a little alcohol to sleep better, soothe arthritic aches and pains, or give you a little high when you’re feeling low. According to our local coroner, too many elderly die of overdose. Accidental? Probably, but for some, who are aware of the consequences when they mix their meds or overindulge, perhaps not.

Enter social services—public and private. Most communities provide a variety of services to help the ill, infirm, or just plain elderly cope with substance abuse and the ongoing effects of the Three Ds. A good place to start looking for help is your local ADRC (Aging and Disability Resource Center) office.  Another might be the Center for Independent Living (or its equivalent). Most communities also have a mental health center. Depending on the severity of the Three Ds, your family doctor can make referrals for psychological (or psychiatric) counseling. Church families offer pastoral counseling. Some also have psychologists and therapists on staff.

For those who can afford professional help, or whose insurance covers it, the variety of available resources is open-ended. There are many in-patient and out-patient, staffed facilities and practices that specialize in addiction treatment. You may not even be there yet, may not self-define as ‘addicted,’ but if you or someone you care for or care about is headed in that direction, reach out for help.

Help is definitely out there. But first, you have to acknowledge that you need it. And then, you need to seek it out and accept it when you find it. If your first choice isn’t working, keep on looking.

The Internet is a good resource. To find those near (or accessible to) you, Google terms like: addiction therapy, recovery, addiction treatment, mental health services. Ask your doctor. Call your church. Check in with the local Senior Center, if there is one. Ask members of your Caregiver’s support group, if you belong to one. If you’re caring for someone in a care facility, ask the social worker or nursing staff for help.

Here are some organizations and facilities we’ve found – one national, one for Colorado, and one local resource. There are many more. These are suggestions, not recommendations. You need to do your own research to determine what might work best for you.