How to Help Your Parents When They’re Addicted to Pain Pills

help your parents when they're addicted

As the U.S. population continues to age, more people are living longer but not necessarily better. As we get older, physical and mental agility begin to wane due to age-related conditions such as arthritis, compromised circulation, weakened immune system, dementia and more. Compound the age and health issues and it’s a recipe for pain. But would you know when your mom or dad was in pain if they didn’t tell you? And if you knew what would or could you do about it? How do you help your parents when they’re addicted?

Following Doctor’s Orders with Opioids Can Be Deadly

For those of us between the ages of 35 and 60, there are “sandwichers” in the mix. The term sandwich generation refers to adult children who care for their children and care for their parents. In fact, most senior caregivers in the U.S. are family members. For adult children with aging parents, a recent study that spoke to the issue revealed that we prefer our parents to age in their own home, rather than in an outside facility. Of those who were part of the study, 85 percent responded this way.

However, there’s a conversation that needs to be had between adult children and their parents. It’s avoided, often. The subject is the existence of pain, how it’s treated and where to go for help. Overuse of prescriptions is on the rise for senior citizens as legal medications are more readily available from doctors because questioning their pain seems insensitive. Physicians are less likely to question an elderly patient asking for a refill to treat their chronic pain than a millennial. That mentality is shifting, due to federal initiatives that put the blame on the medical community for our current opioid addiction epidemic.

Like other addictions, opioid (painkillers) abuse can only effectively be addressed if the person misusing the drug is willing to admit there is a problem. Every try to get your parent to admit to anything?

I can’t tell you how to change your mom or dad’s stubbornness or strong sense of pride. I’m willing to bet that’s already set in stone. What I can share is how to identify a problem with opioids and the subtle (and not so subtle ways) to address it. If it’s any comfort… you’re not the only one dealing with this. It’s an escalating dilemma but you have the power to stop it from detrimentally affecting your family.

Alarming Rate of Seniors Hospitalized for Opioid-Related Misuse

In a government study that reported the rate of hospital intakes over a 20-year period, senior admissions from opioid-related misuse quintupled. And with opioid addiction affecting more than 60,000 adults in this country, shedding light on the more vulnerable victims, our elder loved ones, is a societal calling.

Why Senior Opioid Addiction Happens to the Unsuspecting

As the body and the mind age, pain medication affects a person differently than before. Blood flow is not as strong as it used to be and the ability to process and filter drugs is less than optimal because the kidneys and liver are smaller. What a person can handle in dosage and frequency at age 30 will change by age 70.

Many seniors are under the care of multiple doctors who have prescribed other medications. Some medications, when there is the presence of others in the body at the same time, will create an adverse reaction, increasing the potency of the opioid (or other drugs). For these reasons, even when a patient takes pain pills as prescribed by a doctor, the risk for addiction and overdose can develop without intent.

What Are the Signs of Opioid Addiction in Aging Adults?

Getting a clear understanding of your parent’s behavior about their prescription pain pills can be challenging and even more so if you have concerns that there may be memory issues going on as well. Some of the signs of opioid addiction can mirror signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s. Refer to the following list as what to watch for.

Opioid Addiction Symptom Watch List

  • Mood swings or changes in behavior
  • Increased sleepiness or insomnia
  • Daytime drowsiness, slurring of speech
  • Obsession about their medications
  • Noticeable increase in amount taken or frequency of use
  • Multiple prescription bottles of the same medication from different doctors
  • Reserve medication stashes scattered all over the home
  • Emergency pill boxes in the car, purse or wallet
  • Varied pharmacists, brick-and-mortar and online

How to Have the Conversation about Opioid Addiction with Your Parent

adult son loving his motherIf you need to broach the subject about addiction with your mother or father, it’s best to present it as a thought or from a place of concern. Be careful not to use phrases that state or imply judgement or accusation. It may take a mention once a month just to create an openness to the conversation. Maybe something like, “Hey dad, I think you’re going through your pain meds faster than usual. Everything alright? Has the pain gotten worse?” With this approach, you take the focus off the medication and put it on the pain, which is really the crux of the problem.

  • Talk to the prescribing physician
  • Talk to the family doctor
  • Talk to a specialist who can assess addiction
  • Find a supportive, yet effective treatment plan

It might be tempting to grab the prescription bottle and call the pharmacist or doctor and scream at the top of your lungs. Take a step back. There are HIPAA laws that protect a patient’s right to privacy about their health care. Suggest your concern with your parent and offer to go with them to their next appointment and talk to their doctor about seeking alternative treatments to manage pain. With the new 5-day opioid law Governor Doug Ducey of Arizona just presented, medical practitioners will be more discretionary in administering pain prescriptions than ever before.

If you need to talk, we’re here to listen.

Melanie SternAuthored by Melanie Stern, Content Director for Scottsdale Recovery Center, Arizona Addiction Recovery Centers and Cohn Media, LLC. Writer and broadcaster covering the following industries: addiction rehab, health care, entertainment, technology and advocate of clear communication, positivity and humanity at its best.