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The Gift of Reconciling with Your Recovering Parent this Holiday Season

With the holidays approaching you might be considering building a bridge to your parent.  Family relationships can be complicated, and if your senior parent is a recovering addict things can be especially overwhelming.  If you aren’t sure where to start, here is some great advice.

Understanding Elderly Addiction

Troubling Statistics- There is growing reason for concern regarding addiction in the elderly, and if your parent is recovering from substance abuse you are not alone.  The issue is growing at an alarming rate.  U.S. News and World Report explains that between 2006 and 2012 – just a six year span – U.S. emergency rooms saw a seventy-eight percent increase in visits of older adults improperly using substances.  Eleven percent of those cases included opiate abuse.  Opiates are often prescribed to older adults to control chronic pain, and depending on the medical issue some seniors are able to find physicians who will prescribe all the opiates they request.

Overuse and Overdose- Opiates are particularly addictive.  Physical dependence can begin in as little as five days.  The longer someone takes the drug, the more it takes to relieve symptoms.  NPR advises that the detoxification can take several days, and involves flu-like symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea.  Normally the drugs should be prescribed only for short-term issues, but often elderly patients are prescribed far more than they require.  This can mean a medicine chest with unnecessary and addictive drugs.

Complicating matters more, the consequences from these substances can be devastating.  Accidentally taking a double dose can mean a fatal overdose.  The drugs can cause confusion and contribute to accidents such as falls.

Other drugs and alcohol are also of concern.  As bodies age they don’t process substances as well, and symptoms of dependence can mimic symptoms associated with aging.

Rebuilding The Relationship

Change Your Viewpoint–  In looking for ways to begin, it can help to understand that many experts feel addiction should be treated as an illness.  Our society tends to see addiction as bad behavior and something to be punished.  Instead, viewing the problem as an illness can open communication and remove feelings of guilt and shame.

Be humble-  According to some professionals, you should go into reconciling with a flexible and forgiving attitude.  Anything less will probably yield only misunderstanding and continued conflict.

Communicate- Talking about problems is difficult, but without addressing issues you can’t move past them.  Find an appropriate opportunity and set aside time to have that difficult conversation.  If discussing things in person is too emotional, a letter might be the right answer.  Sitting down with a paper and pen can help you gain perspective and give you an opportunity to find your words.  It also gives your parents an opportunity to mull over and savor the letter when it’s received.

Set Boundaries-  Some relationships are particularly toxic.  The experts at Bustle recommend establishing some boundaries if things are especially troubled.  Don’t expect more from your parents than they can give, but don’t allow them to drag you into an unhealthy pattern.  Decide that if things get messy you will close conversations to pick them back up another day.  Recognize that you cannot make them change, and don’t set unrealistic expectations.

Reach Out-  Sometimes family conflicts are deeply rooted and very complicated.  If you’re hitting walls and can’t find ways to reconcile, enlist the help of a professional therapist or counselor.  Your parents are getting older, and time is precious.  Invest in the relationship while you still can.

The Gift of Reconciliation-  Reconciling with a parent who is recovering from an addiction can be complicated.  Understand the implications of the addiction and reestablish the relationship in a healthy manner.  If you find you hit a wall, reach out for help.  The holidays are a perfect time to rebuild.



Teresa is the co-creator of, which is dedicated to providing seniors with information on physical and mental fitness so that they can be active and happy in their golden years. You can reach her at


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