Helping a loved one with a drinking problem
April 21, 2021
Joan Hatem-Roy, Chief Executive Officer

Q: I am concerned about my sister. Her husband of over 50 years died six months ago. Several times when I have called, I noticed that her speech was slightly slurred, and a relative who lives nearby told me she has smelled alcohol on her breath. My sister had a drinking problem when she was much younger, but I’d believed she’d gotten this under control. I suspect she has relapsed. What can I do to help?

A: Your question is timely because April is Alcohol Awareness Month. When this was first observed back in 1987, its purpose was to raise understanding about the causes and treatment of alcoholism. At that time, the campaign focused on drinking among college-age students, but it has since evolved and broadened.

During the past pandemic year, a survey conducted by researchers at the NYU School of Global Public Health found that 29% of respondents reported they had increased their drinking.

Data from the same survey indicated usage grew most among younger people, although it also climbed among older adults with symptoms of anxiety and depression.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted everyone in one way or another. It should come as no surprise that some people are drinking to cope with the additional stress.

While this is a concern for any segment of the population, older adults run particular risks. As people age, they are prone to developing chronic health conditions, and the medications they take can interact negatively with alcohol, according to health officials.

Your sister has had to deal with COVID as well as the death of her spouse. Grief, isolation, and the constant worry about becoming ill may be too much for her to handle. Given her history of drinking, your concerns are valid and should not be ignored.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Helpline (1-800-662-4357) could be a resource for your family. This confidential treatment, referral, and information service is available 24 hours per day, free of charge.

It’s important to speak to your sister about this to determine what’s happening and how you may be able to help. The SAMHSA Helpline above can provide suggestions about how to approach this with your sister in a way that will be most comfortable for her and you.

To obtain additional local resources, you may wish to contact our agency’s Information and Referral Department.

Are you struggling to care for an older adult or having difficulty locating resources? Our experienced staff is available to help. Visit us online at for more information. You can also call us at 1-800-892-0890 or email Joan Hatem-Roy is the Chief Executive Officer of Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley and North Shore.

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