Whether you are a caregiver for an aging parent with the first signs of dementia or a client with debilitating chronic pain, caregiving is one of the toughest jobs there is. According to the National Caregiver Alliance, more than 40 million people have provided unpaid care to a child or an adult in the last year. Not only is this job physically demanding, but it can be emotionally challenging and mentally stressful as well. From physical exhaustion to feelings of guilt and depression, many caregivers suffer from burnout, which can lead some people to using drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with their pain.
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Anxiety, Depression and Asking for Help
If what started as a harmless cocktail to ease your nerves after a particularly rough fit or episode has turned into relying on alcohol to get through the entire day, you are not alone. A study by Cornell University found that 34 percent of caregivers reported using alcohol as a coping mechanism, and that 2.3 percent reported using alcohol regularly to cope. If you feel like you are becoming dependent on drugs or alcohol to manage your caregiving burden, consider talking to friends, family or your patient’s medical professional about how to get help.
of caretakers use alcohol to cope
Some ways you can ask for help include:
Creating a caregiving team to share the burden of providing care so it doesn’t fall on just you.
Attending substance abuse group meetings to start building a network of support you can rely on when you want to turn to alcohol or drugs.
Checking into a substance abuse treatment facility so you can focus on your health without added stress or distractions.
It’s important that you reach out as soon as you recognize the symptoms of substance abuse in your life. That overwhelming feeling of duress that led you down this path with only worsen with addiction. Research shows that caregivers with substance abuse issues have a higher risk of:
Improperly administering medication.
Delaying calling 911 in an emergency situation.
Suicidal or homicidal thoughts.
Showing less tolerance, patience and even violence during an uncooperative incident.
Physical Pain, Mental Stress and the Road to Recovery
- Checking into a treatment facility and working with an outpatient addictions counselor to help you manage your addiction and the stress of caregiver burden.
- Checking out every available option for bringing in someone else to help manage your patient’s care. Your addiction counselor may also have resources.
- Making intentional decisions to prioritize your health, such as exercising, eating healthily, attending support groups and picking up new hobbies.
- Including the person in your care in your recovery plan, if appropriate.
- Joining support groups for other caregivers so you can share your emotions with people in similar situations.
If your substance abuse is connected to the medication the person in your care is taking, you may need to:
- Ask a friend, family member or hired caregiver to administer medication and keep it locked in a safe place.
- Ask the patient’s healthcare provider if there is a different medication he or she could take.
- Check into a treatment facility to put time and space between your addiction and the source.
Being Vulnerable isn’t a Bad Thing
Talking not only helps you, but it will also help the person in your care. They have likely noticed the change in your personality and quality of care, even in cases of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Be as open as you can be, and don’t be afraid to ask for their help. If you aren’t getting enough sleep at night, ask them if they mind going to bed an hour earlier or pushing breakfast back a bit so you can sleep in a little later. If you need to focus on exercise, see if they are willing to go to a gym with you, or sit in a park and read while you run a few laps. You can work together to find activities that help promote your health and reduce your stress.
Caregivers are under an intense amount of pressure, especially if there are times when you feel like you’re in over your head or your life is no longer your own. Turning to drugs and alcohol might temporarily ease these negative emotions, but in the long run, they’ll only continue to deepen and grow. You may become resentful of the person in your care or the family and friends who aren’t helping out as much as you are.
Take The First Step Towards Getting Help
Hiding your stress and pain will only strain the caregiving relationship and possibly lead you down a path of self-destruction. Caregivers often report worse physical health, like trouble sleeping, headaches and weight loss, so adding addiction to that list will only make your life harder. Don’t wait until a tragedy occurs. You can and should try to find help as you as soon feel ready.
If you’d like to learn more about programs or resources that could help you or a loved one build a sober life and with caretaking, contact us now. Your call is confidential, and our compassionate staff will help you to begin building a treatment plan today.