Caregiving at What Price? Coping with Drugs and Alcohol While Taking Care of Mom or Dad

Whether you’re providing care for a small child or an elderly parent with dementia, being a caregiver is incredibly tough. From bathroom needs to hygiene and meals to bedtime, days can feel very long, especially when the help is not appreciated or acknowledged. It can be particularly difficult caring for an aging parent knowing that there is no goal to be reached or joyful end to the journey.

Watching the physical and cognitive decline of a parent or grandparent can be overwhelming in many ways. Many caregivers maintain full-time jobs while taking care of their loved ones in the margins of their lives. Keeping this schedule long-term can quickly affect your physical and mental health. In fact, thirty-five percent of people caring for a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s report a decline in health due to caregiving.1

Many people develop caregiver stress as the demands of taking care of a loved one build. Caregiver stress can affect you in many negative ways physically and mentally.2 For some, the stress can lead to anxiety and depression and for some, substance abuse.

How Caregiving Can Affect Your Mental Health

The American Psychological Association recommends that all caregivers be screened for mental health disorders in order to protect themselves, as well as the loved ones they are caring for.3 Caregivers are notorious for not keeping up with their health—missing regular doctor visits or not getting prescriptions filled, not exercising and eating well and seeing a decline in social relationships and mental stability.4

Many caregivers stop spending their time in common social settings and as a result lose much needed human connections. Some friends may reach out from time to time, but caregivers tend to feel increasingly isolated as their loved one’s health deteriorates, and they demand more attention.

Some may recognize they are struggling but feel at a loss of what to do. They may feel a familial burden to be the primary caregiver — that they owe it their mom or dad, or they may not feel that there is a better option with the high cost of in home or skilled nursing care.Considering these factors, it makes sense why so many caregivers develop anxiety and depression and may experiment with ways to find relief.

When the Stress of Caregiving Becomes Too Much

Many caregivers may turn to alcohol or other substances to numb the pain they feel from caregiving. In a Chicago-based study of caregivers who were also working other jobs, those who experienced social and emotional burdens from their caregiving were more likely to develop heavy drinking patterns with cause for concern.5

Whether caregivers turn to alcohol or other substances of abuse, it is problematic for several reasons. Substance abuse can quickly lead to addiction and cause years of problems both physically and mentally. Overcoming these issues may require intensive therapy. Substance abuse also contributes to already declining health for many caregivers. And of course, substance abuse inhibits your ability to care others, putting your loved one, as well as yourself, in imminent danger.

Help for Caregivers

If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol or substance abuse and needs a way out, we want to help. We understand the demands of caregiving as well as the sensitive nature of making sure your loved ones are well cared for. Here at The Oaks at La Paloma, we have programs to treat substance abuse that meet the needs of all situations, and we offer specialized care for those who are seeking treatment for substance abuse and a co-occurring mental health disorder like depression or anxiety.

Please call us today at our 24-hour, toll-free helpline to find out more about how we can help you begin your new life. There is no need to wait. Please call now.


1Dementia Caregiving in the U.S.” National Alliance for Caregiving, October 2017.

2 Mayo Clinic Staff, “Caregiver Stress: Tips for Taking Care of Yourself.” MayoClinic.org, 7 March 2015.

3Mental Health of Caregivers.” American Psychological Association. Accessed 16 January 2018.

4 Marley, Marie, “Alzheimer’s Caregiving May Be Wrecking Your Health.” The Huffington Post. 13 August 2014.

5 Rospenda, Kathleen M., et. al, “Caregiver Burden and Alcohol Use in a Community Sample.” Journal of Addictive Diseases, July 2010.

Articles posted here are primarily educational and may not directly reflect the offerings at The Oaks. For more specific information on programs at The Oaks, contact us today.