When caring for those we love, it is not unusual to reach a stage commonly known as Caregiver Burnout. This burning out due to fatigue, the stress of worry over the loved ones we care for, and the depression that can sometimes follow are typically associated with the full-time care of severely disabled children or the care of elderly parents diminished by dementia diseases.
However, little is mentioned about the challenges parents of adult children using illegal substances, misusing prescription medication, or abusing alcohol face. The overall lack of widespread exposure can lead to feelings of isolation and sheer hopelessness when faced with the emotional, physical, and financial tolls associated with coping or caring for addicted adult children.
We love our children. We want them to engage in healthy choices. We would go to the ends of the earth for them. However, we feel frustrated, angry even at the encroachment of their lifestyle choices on what is often our late-career or early retirement years. And that is when guilt creeps in.
Caregiving an Adult-Addicted-Child
By the time our children reach their twenties and thirties, we may have reached our forties and fifties as parents. In terms of life stages, that puts us somewhere around mid-career, saving for retirement with possible thoughts of downsizing. In terms of family dynamics, we may also find ourselves caring for, or at the very least, closely monitoring our own parents’ health and well-being. The latter, advancing in years with associated long-term health issues.
We may be grandparents. As such, depending on how advanced the drug-addicted lifestyle has become, we may be caring for our grandchildren, either because we feel it is in the best interests of everyone concerned, or the Department of Children Families are already involved.
All of this while you take your elderly parents to the doctor’s, drive your adult child to counseling because they lost their license in a DUI, and you try to make up for time off work.
Spend time with friends after work? You would love to, except you’re sure there is something to do, or you should be doing. Is it any wonder you are burned out?
The Stress of Caregiver Burnout
You may be used to the carefully balanced load you are carrying; it seems perfectly normal. However, this is simply your body’s way of adapting to the stress load. It does not mean you are not stressed!
Imagine you managed to take a break and head to a hot beach in July. You climb out of the car, and immediately the sun hits your eyes, and you feel the hot late morning sun. Soon, your body adapts to the stress, and you start enjoying your day. Then, the sun gets hotter, but you are too busy to notice. You get busy playing in the sea, you play some volleyball, while your body copes with the increasing stress placed upon it. Finally, you sit down with a book. You notice a slight headache. Your skin is burned, and you start to feel shivery and unwell. You have full-blown sunstroke.
Full-blown burnout. And you never saw it coming.
Our body is excellent at adapting to stress; it helps us deal with danger and any necessary spur-of-the-moment decision-making. It cannot adapt to continued exposure to stress where the default setting is heavily managed dysfunction, spiked with intense moments of increased anxiety due to overdoses, family arrests, and so on. In the end, something has to give.
The Signs of Burnout
Caregiver burnout has signs similar to depression. If you recognize these signs in your current behavior, you must speak with a professional who can guide you toward the right support network.
There is no shame in asking for help. Taking care of your health will help reduce your stress levels. Perhaps even more important is realizing you are not alone. That there are other caregivers like yourself, walking a similar path.
- Withdrawing from loved ones. At the end of a non-stop day, we might be too exhausted to speak with anyone, never mind find the time to cultivate relationships outside our immediate circle. Having a trusted person with whom we can talk to is essential.
- Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed. We might feel guilty about engaging in activities outside the home. We may also lack the necessary resources in both time and money to engage in extracurricular activities. This may cause further withdrawal from family and friends.
- Weight Loss. A gradual lack of appetite or even food in the home. You may be spending vital grocery money on funding your child’s habit.
- Getting sick more often than usual. This is a sign your immunity is under stress, making you vulnerable to infection.
- Emotional and physical exhaustion. You may not be getting the rest you need. Sleep cannot be overrated. Adequate sleep gives us the resources with which to handle the demands placed on us.
- Irritability. Easily irritated? A sign you may be running on empty, unable to make another demand on your time, your thoughts, and your body.
Three Things You Can Consider Right Now
Understand that you cannot control your loved one’s addiction. Although you want to do everything possible to control their drinking or use, this will only increase frustration and resentment. Offering help and contributing to solving the problem may delay your addicted loved one’s decision to get help. Those suffering from addiction are often crisis-driven, which becomes the catalyst to make changes in their lives and get help. Accepting unacceptable behavior does nothing to help them. If you find yourself making excuses for their behavior, this is a form of minimizing and acceptance.
Recognize that addiction is a progressive illness meaning it will get worse over time, just like any disease. Being realistic is essential, especially if your adult child becomes physically or emotionally abusive toward you. It is okay to tell them this is unacceptable behavior and leave or have them removed from your home. Your responsibility is to yourself and any other household members who are not engaging in an addicted lifestyle. By allowing the behavior to happen or leaving it unchecked, you let them know it is acceptable for them to treat you in that manner. Standing up for yourself can be challenging at first. You may feel guilty, especially if your child has to leave the house. However, as emotionally difficult as this is, it may be the catalyst for the change they need.
Acknowledge that if substance use has been part of your loved one’s life for a long time, you may have a set idea of how your loved one should be behaving. Dealing with addiction and recovery is a daily task that will take the rest of your addicted loved one’s life to manage. You should avoid setting either of you up for failure by expecting broad and sweeping changes overnight.
Ultimately, there are steps that you can take to help control or minimize burnout. Realizing that you are not responsible for every action and every misstep of your loved one’s addiction can help take some of the pressure off your stress levels. However, that is only part of it. Speaking to your health care professional about any burnout symptoms that you may have, you may be directed toward an appropriate support group where you will have a chance to meet and enjoy peer support with other caregivers in a similar situation.
When caring for those we love, it is not unusual to reach caregiver burnout. However, little is mentioned about the challenges parents of adult children using illegal substances, misusing prescription medication, or abusing alcohol face. Caregiver burnout has signs similar to depression. Speaking with a professional can guide you toward the right support network. Hired Power’s discretion and confidentiality assure anonymity through all stages of returning to wellness. Whether moving to your detox program safely and with discretion, to recovery and sober living partners that can help you through the holidays, Hired Power is there for you or your loved one, standing as that bridge between you and traditional recovery plans. You don’t have to struggle alone; our personal recovery assistants are here to help you walk through this process, believing in you, and empowering you to change, step by step. Call Hired Power today at (800) 910-9299. We look forward to hearing from you.