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Alcohol and Caregiving

Many times when an older woman or older man is caring for a spouse or older friend whose health is very precarious, the caregiving can feel pretty close to overwhelming. Alcohol or prescribed drugs can easily become a caregiver's escape hatch.

Any caregiver face this problem. However, three groups of caregivers seem particularly affected by potential alcohol problems. You may want to look at your own level of drinking if you are giving care to a  family member who

a) has or had an alcohol problem, or

b) is dealing with cancer, or

b) has Alzheimer's disease or other dementias. (1)


The behaviour or judgment problems sometimes associated with dementias, in particular, can create stresses for family members. See Memory  and Memory Impairment. People are often open to practical tips that can make giving care or assistance less difficult.


In some instances, a family member giving care to a parent who has an alcohol problem. The family member may not have a problem, but is worried  about whether he or she, too, may possibly develop an alcohol problem in the future (see Upcoming Topic: Are Alcohol Problems Inherited?).



Suggestions for Family Giving Care…to Help Recognize Personal Stress 

It  is very important for people giving care to others to also take good care of themselves.  People can find giving care a positive experience, others find it a stressful one. Most people find it a combination of the two.

As part of self care, regularly ask yourself:

Ask Yourself

1. "What's changing in my life?" 

- Are there stresses in my work?

- Do we have financial concerns?

- How is my own health right now?

- Are there stresses from my children?

- Are other family members supportive of me in giving care?


2. Is my consumption of

-- tea

-- coffee

-- sugar

-- alcohol

... increasing?


3.  Has my sleep pattern changed?

-- Am I able to get a full night's sleep?

-- Do I feel rested in the morning?


Take Care of Yourself

Obviously, it becomes harder to take care of another person, if we don't take care of ourselves.

- Be aware if your consumption of alcohol seems to be going up, if you are drinking more frequently, more at a time, or feel the need to have a nightcap every night…

- Understand the ways that alcohol can negatively affect your sleep…look for alternative ways to have a better sleep.

- Ask your physician and your pharmacist about alcohol-medication interactions for any medication you are taking. If the person you are caring for is still drinking,  you will need to know about potential alcohol-medication interactions for them too.



Suggestions for Alzheimer and Other Caregiver Support Groups… to Help Caregivers

Support groups for people who are giving care can be very valuable resources in dealing with the stresses of giving care. For that reason, it is important that caregiver support groups recognize that many middle aged and older people drink alcohol. For some, their alcohol consumption creeps up. This can happening during the period they are giving care or after  their spouse, partner, parent or other relative has moved to a care facility.

Don't be afraid to gently and non-judgmentally broach the subject in caregiver discussions and caregiver support groups. Drinking is real and very common. Alcohol misuse among caregivers is also real. Caregivers need people's understanding and support if drinking is starting to become a problem in their lives.

It can be pretty hard for a person to mention the fact that he or she is relying on alcohol as one of the ways to handle the stresses and strains of giving care.  The problem becomes more and more hidden.

A caregiver may stop coming to a support group simply because he or she feels that they cannot talk openly about the problem.

It should not be that way.

How to Help


Caregiver support groups can help by 

- Letting people know 

o alcohol use among caregivers is much more common than people might think, 

o that alcohol misuse can easily happen, and

o that just because alcohol has become a problem in a person's life, does not mean the person is an “alcoholic”.

- Getting people to look at their own level of drinking. Ask non-judgmental questions related to alcohol, such as:

o “What are some of ways that you use to cope?” 

o “How many of you here occasionally take a nightcap to help you sleep?”

o “What about after a really bad day?” After visiting your relative?


References and  Resources


Clipp, E.C. & L.K. George (1990) "Psychotropic drug use among caregivers of patients with dementia" J. of American Geriatrics Society 38 227.



Veterans Affairs offers a brief Caregiver Burnout Test.  See:


as well a few suggestions for how people  can protect themselves from caregiver burnout: 


Caregiver Resources: www.clickintocaregivers.com/




Page last updated Tuesday January 23, 2007


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