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Carol Bradley Bursack, Published May 02 2010

Bursack: Unhappy father is turning to booze

Dear Carol: After two weeks in assisted living, my dad is angry and uncooperative because he feels trapped and not in control. We followed his decision to move both our mother and himself north where family is nearby and visits every couple of days.

The assisted-living staff is attentive and trying their best. Dad hasn’t tried to adjust. He wants to return to their southern house and his car. He has expressed suicidal thoughts. The doctor said he is extremely depressed and suggested an antidepressant, but so far Dad has refused it, preferring to medicate with alcohol. What can I do differently? – Jennifer

Dear Jennifer: I have a feeling that alcohol is a major contributor to your dad’s behavior. Alcohol is a depressant. You aren’t alone in coping with an elder who uses alcohol and likely considers it his “only pleasure.” This is difficult to handle, so please don’t be too hard on yourself.

Yes, he sounds depressed, and it’s likely that unless he follows the doctor’s suggestion, he will remain depressed. He may have been told that if he takes an antidepressant he can’t drink, and he doesn’t want that.

Sometimes we just have to accept that our loved ones won’t be happy. Your dad is an adult and you haven’t indicated Alzheimer’s or other dementia, though excessive alcohol use can cause dementia.

Obviously, you’ve had the help of many medical people. All I can say is please don’t accept the guilt thrown your way. Let him know that you love him. Remind him that he chose to come north and that this is his home. If he chooses to not accept help, and not participate in what the assisted-living center has to offer, you can’t change his attitude. He needs to know you won’t accept blame for his situation.

I’m sure you’ve tried sympathy and all of the soft, instinctive approaches. You should talk this tougher approach over with the doctor, but I do think that some people have a controlling nature, and when they find out that they can no longer control the feelings of others, they are more willing to change.

His suicidal tendencies are worrisome, but you have medical advice there and they are doing what they can. If he refuses antidepressants and continues to drink, I don’t know that you will see much change.

My heart goes out to you, Jennifer. If it’s any help, know that you aren’t alone. Al-Anon or Families Anonymous meetings may help you cope.


Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a Web site supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carol@mindingourelders.com.