March 15, 2019
What to Do If Your Parents Are Addicted to Pain Medication

As a nation, we are living longer lives than we did a decade or two ago. Much of that can be credited to modern medicine that allows us to live longer with little or no pain. Unfortunately, the advent of some of these medications has created a new problem:  addiction. One demographic especially vulnerable are older people who put full trust in their physician and may be hesitant to admit when they become reliant on their pain pills.  What should children of addicted parents do if their parents are addicted to pain medication?

The Problem with Following Doctor’s Orders Without Question

With older parents, it’s always a good idea to be actively involved in your parent’s care. As a caregiver, that may include accompanying them on doctor’s appointments and monitoring their medication intake.  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.

Broaching the subject of more involvement can be difficult, and if an adult child suspects addiction, it can be even more difficult. The subject is the presence 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 willing to prescribe or increase dosage 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 younger patient. That mentality is shifting due to more recent initiatives that put the responsibility on the medical community for our current opioid addiction epidemic. Nonetheless, the problem still exists.

Like other addictions, painkiller abuse can only effectively be addressed if the person misusing the drug is willing to admit there is a problem. That can be a very difficult conversation for a child to have with their parent. The first step is to identify the problem and address it as quickly as possible. An open, honest dialog can help.

Is Senior Addiction Really a Problem?

In a government study that reported the rate of hospital intakes over a 20-year period, senior admissions from opioid abuse rose at an alarming rate With opioid addiction affecting more than 60,000 adults in this country alone, shedding light on the more vulnerable victims such as our parents or grandparents is a must. Unfortunately, a senior may not even realize their addicted and therefore won’t ask for help. Pain medication affects a person differently from individual to individual. Blood flow is not as strong as it used to be in seniors 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 40 will change by age 70. Unfortunately, that may not always translate into the medical care they receive from their physician. What’s even more alarming is that 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.

Know the Signs of Opioid Addiction in Seniors

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 be deceivingly similar dementia or Alzheimer’s. Here is a list to refer to if you fear possible pain medication addiction:

  • Mood swings or changes in behavior
  • Varied pharmacists, brick-and-mortar and online
  • 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
  • Increased sleepiness or insomnia
  • Spare medication stored all over the home
  • Multiple pill boxes in the car, purse or wallet

You Suspect Addiction:  Now What?

If you feel that there is a possibility of addiction, you need to approach the subject carefully. It’s best to present it as a thought or from a place of concern versus an accusation. Be careful not to use phrases that state or imply judgement or blame. It may take a more than one mention just to create an open and frank dialog. With this approach, you take the focus off the medication and put it on the pain, which is really the true problem. If you feel you need more information and perspective before approaching a potentially addicted parent, try to talk to prescribing physician, family doctor, or a specialist who can assess addiction on a professional level. It’s important to find a supportive yet effective treatment plan.

You can then 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 opioid law Governor Doug Ducey of Arizona establishes, medical practitioners will be more discretionary in administering pain prescriptions than ever before.

Having an elderly parent or grandparent who is potentially addicted to pain medication can be frightening and confusing. Knowing how to spot possible addiction and know what to do if your parents are addicted to pain medication can literally save their life.