The Pill Problem

By Fran Marmor | April 5th, 2014

What to do if we suspect it in our aging parents


Okay, this is way different than anything I’ve seen in your column. I know something about addictions — my grandson got into some trouble with marijuana, and I had an uncle who was a raging alcoholic. I feel like now I’m dealing with a similar, but different problem. My mother has had severe arthritis for years and also has debilitating back pain. But her doctors have given her so many prescriptions for pain medication that I think she takes them like they’re candy. She sometimes seems out of it, but my dad says even though they make her very groggy, it is better than seeing her in constant pain. I know she can’t need all of those pills, and I know that being groggy and out of it is no way to live. But I know that it is not like she is a street drug addict, and I don’t want to be the one who convinces her to live in pain. So I am stuck.

– Jessie


This is a sensitive issue, and a sad truth is that you have only limited power to help your mom. She has the right to privacy concerning her medical care, and, unless she is in immediate danger, she has the right to manage her pain with a doctor of her choice. She probably doesn’t see her prescription use as a potential problem, but rather as a solution. However, the solution can become the problem, especially if there is an addiction developing. Your mother is likely of the generation that believed that medicine and “going to the doctor” was the only way to address symptoms. We are now aware of many other ways to address pain, such as acupuncture, massage, biofeedback and yoga.

An option you have is to talk lovingly to your mother. Tell her you are so happy that her pain is less severe but that you are concerned that the amount of medication she is on may not be the perfect solution. She probably trusts her doctor, so ask if she’d be comfortable with you or your father going with her to an appointment to let him know some of your concerns and explore other pain-relief options. It is very important that you not make her feel judged, and let her know that you are absolutely on her side, and that you want her pain to be manageable, but that you would feel better if she’d be willing to allow you to have some input. If your mom is unwilling to involve you, you can express the concerns again to your dad. But it is ultimately your mother’s choice. You obviously love your mother very much – and that is probably the most important message you have to deliver!

– Fran

Fran Marmor, LCSW, has been a psychotherapist for more than 20 years. Though changing some details, she writes of actual cases for BOOMER from Fort Collins, Colo.

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