Caregivers are often under severe emotional and physical stress, as they have to manage a lot of things while taking care of their relative who is ill. Since these people are put at higher risk for health problems, they try to relieve stress by taking drugs or drinking alcohol. However, in many cases, such an approach to stress management often leads to substance abuse, which can aggravate the situation and make the life of a caregiver even more difficult.
A burden difficult to bear
Watching your loved one dying is an experience no one would like to have, and since mental health is often affected, a caregiver feels contrasting emotions, such as sadness and anger, anxiety and fatigue, desperation and fear. In order to deal with the debilitating stress, such a person can start taking drugs or drinking alcohol, which often leads to addiction. In an attempt to escape stress, caregivers abuse prescription drugs to cope with the situation they find themselves in. Problems gather like a snowball, and substance abuse contributes to depression, anxiety and other health issues almost any caregiver has.
Where is the line?
It can be difficult to tell whether a person is taking drugs without being addicted to them or he or she is really abusing drugs or alcohol. It depends on a person, because different bodies react to such substances differently, and willpower is a thing that matters a lot.
Substance abuse can manifest itself in:
- The inability to quit. If you cannot just stop taking a drug or even an over-the-counter medication, it’s time to ask a doctor to help you.
- If you notice that it takes a larger dose to produce the effect the drug/drink used to have earlier with a smaller dose, your body may be addicted to the medication, and if you neglect it today, it can lead to the need to take extreme and often dangerous doses that will not exert any effect.
- If you experience withdrawal symptoms when giving up alcohol or drugs, it means you are addicted to them. These symptoms can include anxiety, shaking, nausea and sweating. In some people, nausea can even lead to vomiting.
How can a caregiver avoid substance abuse?
- As soon as you notice some or one of the signs of addiction listed above, consult a doctor. It is not a thing to be ashamed of: if you need help, ask for it. Don’t be afraid of talking about it with a doctor, with your relatives or special communities, like AA. It is not a shame – it is a way to get rid of something that is destroying your soul and body.
- Try to share your burden with someone else if you cannot bear it alone. Even if your neighbor just cooks meals for you, it will be easier for you to juggle all your problems and take care of the person who needs it. Besides, delegating some of your duties can help alleviate the situation, as hygiene, treatment, housekeeping, working and dozens of other things lead to severe stress that affects both mental and physical health of a caregiver; if some of these responsibilities are delegated, at least occasionally, the caregiver will have some time to relax and prepare for another day of hard work. Do not be afraid of receiving help.
- It can be difficult to find some spare time if you take care of your mother or other relative, but it is a must to dedicate at least a small part of the day to your soul and body: pray, read, exercise, talk to friends and do other things that can help prevent you from isolation from others, depression, and substance abuse.
It is a great challenge every caregiver faces, but substance abuse is not a way out. Remember: it will not alleviate the symptoms associated with stress, but aggravate the situation. Substance abuse results in an inability to take care of the loved one, and his or her safety is compromised: should the patient cry for help or need medication, a caregiver who is inebriated will not be able to give the right dose or even hear the person who is ill. Besides, you can lose your job, which will mean you will not have money to buy food, medications, etc.
The key rule is not to be afraid of asking for help. Remember: substance abuse is not a way out, and alcohol is the last thing to help you avoid stress.