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  • Senior family members face tough holidays when in recovery for addiction

    Guest Post by Teresa Greenhill at

    Photo by Jorge Lopez at Unsplash

    The holidays are a joyous time of year — unless you’re going through something painful and emotional, such as addiction recovery. Then it can be extremely difficult and fraught with anxiety.

    If you’re new to recovery and heading toward the holiday season with family and friends, you might be getting worried about what to expect. Will your family still be angry about last year? Will they understand that you can’t drink this year? Will they make snide remarks about it? Unfortunately, you can’t predict the future. What you can do is hold on to the present and put one proverbial foot in front of the other, until January, when you can relax and recover from the season.


    But you’re not alone. The opioid addiction epidemic is hitting all parts of the United States and all segments of society. Addiction to prescription painkillers among seniors is growing considerably, and it’s more difficult to diagnose because doctors don’t often ask the right questions and caregivers miss the signs of addiction.


    While the drug addiction headlines often focus on teens and young adults, the numbers in older adults is also on the rise. According to a study at the annual meeting of the Gerontological Society of America, there was a 78 percent increase from 2006 to 2012 in the number of emergency visits in the U.S. by older adults for misuse of a prescription or use of illicit drugs.


    The holidays can be especially difficult for addicts because of many factors. Being with family and having unresolved issues can trigger relapse because using drugs or alcohol can often feel like it’s much easier than dealing with their dysfunctional family. Another issue is that many people like to drink at holiday gatherings, causing addicts to want to join the “fun” or not face the questions that will arise if they stick to non-alcoholic drinks.


    If you are the family member of a senior who is in recovery, knowing how to approach him or her and be a supportive resource during the holidays can help bolster your commitment to him or her. If your loved one is tempted by others drinking at a party, help him or her steer clear. Don’t be obvious about it — nobody needs to discuss it. Just suggest the two of you go into another room to visit with someone else, or prepare a non-alcoholic drink for him or her. Put a cherry in it, and it even looks like a cocktail.


    Let your loved one know, privately, that you’re here and you want to offer your support. Ask what he or she might need and listen to the requests. Perhaps you can go for a walk around the block (in the snow, if necessary) when the party gets a little too overwhelming. Maybe just a change of subject is needed to pull them out of the moment, or you could run interference between them and a particularly nosey party guest. Help make an excuse to exit if it gets really bad.


    If you’ve become estranged from a family member because of his or her addiction and are hoping to mend fences, the holiday season is a good time to approach him or her with some discussion. Perhaps you’d like to sit down and talk about some of the feelings you’re having and find ways to move past it. If your parent or other family member has been through treatment, now is a good time to make amends. Ask him or her to coffee and have a frank, but sensitive discussion. Don’t berate, and don’t bring up a laundry list of their failings, but don’t be afraid to give honest insight to your pain. Try to make real strides toward forgiveness. It will help them recover and it will help you feel free of the hurt.


    Take the season one step at a time, one day at a time, and you’ll come through with flying colors. This holiday season will be the most clear and memorable for you in a long time.


    Teresa Greenhill | [email protected]