Can an alcoholic get declared incompetent?

19 answers | Last updated: Nov 09, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My mother is an alcoholic with multiple suicide attempts. She's recently been in and out of hospitals over the past two week for suicidal intentions. The problem is that we can not get any to get a medical TDO for over 72 hours and she is released on her own wishes. She is not able to make these decisions, however she has not been declared incompetent by any of her physicians. How or is it possible to get her declared incompetent?


Expert Answers

Carolyn Rosenblatt, R.N. and Attorney is the author of author of The Boomer's Guide to Aging Parents. She has over 40 years of combined experience in her two professions. As a nurse, she has extensive experience with geriatrics, chronic illness, pain management, dementias, disability, family dynamics, and death and dying. As a trial attorney, she advocated for for the rights of injured individuals and neglected elders. She is also co-founder of AgingParents.com.

You ask about how to have an alcoholic parent declared incompetent, and state that none of her physicians have done so. I am not clear about whether your mother is actually incompetent. Suicide attempts and being an alcoholic do not, by themselves, automatically mean that she is incompetent under the law. Because being declared incompetent can lead to a complete loss of all freedom, physicians may be reluctant or unwilling to give a sworn statement that your mother is incompetent, which generally means unable to make safe decisions about money and other matters and to handle her finances and affairs. The first step is to ask the last psychiatrist who treated or evaluated your mother whether he/she thinks your mother is incompetent to handle her own affairs. If the doctor says "yes" to the question, you need to seek the advice of an elder law attorney to determine whether guardianship, a court proceeding, is appropriate.

If the question is about handling money and business matters, and a doctor says your mother is competent, you can ask her to appoint you or a trusted other as her agent on a durable power of attorney. That would allow the agent to make all financial and business decisions for your mother without going to court or having to have a doctor say that she can't handle her own affairs. If no doctor is willing to state that she is incompetent, and she does not want to appoint a durable power of attorney to assist her, there is no legal means to take over her decision making.


Community Answers

A fellow caregiver answered...

I am in this one up to my eyeballs. I hate it for you but as well meaning as the professionals are the bare, ugly truth is there is no help for being an alcoholic with out help from the alcoholic. Comsumption of alcohol is legal in all 50 states as long as you are 21. There are no laws that protect a person from drinking themselves into any mumber of health issues both physical and mental. None to help you either. My husband is 55 and drinks himself into a coma every night. He suffers from liver damage (end stage) and has for 4 years now. His doctor gives him pain meds which he takes in 3 days of a 30 day prescription (90). We have had GI bleeds, kidney failure, CHF and so many falls it is not possible to keep track of them anymore. When we go to the ER he tells them he got confused about his meds. They say AWWWWW! and give him more. He goes home and drinks them down. They don't call it a suicide attempt because he is sick and confused. AA is a joke to him. Being drunk/high is his world and it is the one he choses to stay in as much as possible. I have tried everything moral and legal there is to do to make him stop. With end stage liver disease, he still has no problem??? and all the doctors and test are lying. His DR will not declare him because he is terminal and feels it is unnecessary. He cannot handle his meds,or make it to the bathroom. He can however call the liquor store and have it delivered! He has credit cards he got online to pay for it. Sneaky yes, typical substance abuse behavior yes. According to all legal sources and medical professionals, until something happens to him that renders him medically incapable like a stroke or heart attack, car accident with legal charges or assults someone causing great bodily injury, he has every right to continue on the path he is now. You can just imagine how wonderful it is to come home from work everyday. I was however, informed that if he has a stroke or heart attack while I am away at work, and expires from this, I will be charged with neglect! Save yourself the grief of trying. Unless she hurts herself to a point of no return, you have nothing legal or medically you can do!


Jenyfer answered...

There are two other options not considered: 1-Baker Act: This can get a person involuntarily committed for a maximum of 72 hours for psychiatric evaluation if the person is in danger of inflicting self harm, threatens suicide or has a any form of suicidal ideation, thought, plans or intentions. 2-Marchman Act: Needs to be pursued through the court that can involuntarily commit a person to a substance abuse treatment facility via court order, and the court order will not be removed until/unless the person successfully completes treatment.

good luck. Praying for you.


Maryland mom answered...

I am at my wit's end w/my 60 yr old alcoholic spouse who runs a company then comes home (drunk) after liquid lunches and is now in full-blown dementia, to boot. DUI this spring finally (gratefully) sent him to a work-release rehab and we had high hopes. Guess who never stopped drinking and is now sneaking worse, more, earlier in the day than ever. Conversations no longer make sense, his kids hate him, he seems to be making less and less sense at work acc. to the phone calls he makes from home (he comes home earlier & earlier each day -- I know because I have to pick him up cause he lost his license for three months)... Sadly, everyone loves my husband but me and the kids. We are humiliated, disgusted, depressed, embarrassed by his outbursts and inappropriate sexual innuendos when watching tv/eating at restaurants with us/out in public... The best part of all??? He REFUSES to go to any and all doctors. Even at the rehab... he is a total con artist and managed to get in and out of a 28 day program with promises of going to see a doctor soon.It has been 20 yrs since he has had a physical; he is emaciated and sickly. No appetite...all the signs of major alcoholism and now the dementia on top of it. He is in total denial. WHERE DO I TURN FOR HELP??? I still have a high schooler at home, a Mom with frontal lobe dementia living home alone and I just lost my father...I am ready to take the first plane outta here!!!! Anybody have any ideas?!?!


A fellow caregiver answered...

I finally found a solution. I posted above. Using a laptop, I taped his entire Saturday with a minicam. Embarrassment works wonders!


Newby1961 answered...

Wow what a great idea to video tape. I am a recovering alcoholic who for years drank and thought AA was a joke. I have been sober for a little over 6 years and I have done it with AA's help among other services. There is nothing anyone can do to make a person quit. I was locked up, prayed over, you name it and I didn't stop till I was ready. Tough love works far better helping an alcoholic reach their bottom than someone who stays and continues to pick up the pieces. Most people won't quit till they have lost people who love them, or they lost a job,go to jail ect. I was shocked at some of the posts i read, all I could think is some of you sound sicker than the person who drinks cause you stay, and you don't even have alcohol to buffer the feelings. Maybe some of you should check out alanon that program has saved many a wives and family members. There are people who care and understand what you are going through. Try on the computer just google it and read some of the stuff. Good luck Peace & Blessings


Tea mcalpin answered...

Funny you should mention a video tape. That is finally what I did to make my husband stop. When he SAW himself fall over into several potted plants, pee on himself, puke all over the couch, and act like a starving caveman over a piece of day old pizza he had stashed in the chair.....he was humiliated! He cried for four days but has not had a drop of booze since. His lab numbers are improving and I might get some quality time with him before he dies. Technology is wonderful. Some of us who stay might be sick. Point taken. But some of us made commitments to our significant other like we make commitments to aging parents who fear being put into long term care facilities. All the children in our family care for our own as promised. We are also from the old school of thought (1940's or so) and we don't throw away our mentally challenged relatives either. While being responsible for an alcoholic is the hardest thing I have ever done emotionally and physically, bar no other challenge I have ever faced on any level, I got the rest that will come my way with bells on! Congrats on being sober for 6 years! I found Al-anon in my area to be the biggest waste of time ever. It was filled with whiners with no solutions but plenty of poor sorry me stories.I was looking for a solution, not stories. Had a pocket full of those myself. Video taping my husband in all his glory worked for him.It might for others too. Am I sick? Maybe! Or you can classify me as dedicated to those not completely whole, I have promised to care for.


Maryland mom answered...

Okay, the idea of videotaping is a great one but for the King of Denial, how do you suggest I even get him to actually WATCH it? This is a man who has not gone to drs.,not eaten properly,has stopped going to Mass, deceived the entire Rehab facility about his issues...And people think he is going to sit down with a box of popcorn and watch a movie of his repulsive life? HA!

I am still here because I set a goal of 4 yrs, 3 and a half yrs ago. Shape up or I am shipping out. I need to keep a household running. Leaving now would only throw my family's world into further chaos. I owe my kids a bit more than that after staying put and allowed them to watch their father die slowly. Should've left when they were very young before they realized what their gene pool is filled with. It must be terrifying for both of them to see this and know it is in their veins. As for those that say staying together for the kids is best? They have not lived with an alcoholic spouse. Obviously.


A fellow caregiver answered...

Just turn the volume up! Human curiosity will take care of the rest. And watching the whole thing is not necessary. Just a small clip with all the "reality" for all to see!


Renjith answered...

really helpful


Muraliksmenon answered...

Thanks for all the answers


A fellow caregiver answered...

IF your kids have already seen how he acts, then if the volume is up and they are watching it won't he head over to see what's going on?


A fellow caregiver answered...

Why would anyone stay in relationships w/people who wont help themselves? Been there myself, he got sent to the curb! Not worth my safety or that of my then toddler. No sympathy for drinkers here, period.


Gregchappel answered...

helpguide.org[helpguide.org]


Pattyjac answered...

Ito did the video thing, he watched it, he was totally upset. Two weeks later he was drunk again. mine in a binge drinker. Don't work, eat wwash, or anything. Just sits and drinks. The longest time was two months. he is the smartest drunk I have ever known, not to mention, lucky. In his case I KNOW it is a choice. he will not take anything to help stop the edge,. And he only does and says, what he KNOWS the courts and who ever want to hear.


A fellow caregiver answered...

Maryland Mom

Alcoholism is a family disease. You and your children are sick too and need help. Continually trying to help to no avail just puts you in the victim role which seems to meet a need that's been created by the disease of alcoholism. It's an ugly vicious cycle that will eat you up! I've been sober over a year, have two beautiful kids and a loving husband for which I get on my knees for, cry and thank God for every single day! Alcoholism is progressive. I lost my job, my husband shamed me with pictures, my kids cried, the list goes on and on. I had to be ready for treatment and help. There's absolutely nothing you can do for him, but you can help yourself with alanon and counseling and the same for your kids with a-lateen/alanon and counseling etc. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage the change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.


Danielwalker631 answered...

I went through all this at a time when drinking was my life. First make sure that she is incompetent by getting her to a psychiatrist. He has to agree that she can’t get over the addiction by herself. The next step is to have every single person in her life to agree and attest that she is in fact incompetent. This should make the process fairly simple. If you are anywhere in Canada, I’d suggest you to take a look at - some sites which has <ahref=”http://www.canadarehabreviews.com”>many reviews on good addiction treatment programs in Calgary and nearby areas.


A fellow caregiver answered...

My ex husband went through three rehabs and was still so drunk that he couldn't walk straight, was incontinent, didn't bathe, and didn't own any underwear. He differed from the homeless stinking street drunks only in his possession of enough money to drink and stink at home. Pictures and videos do not help someone who is that deep in denial. And I reject the idea that I or my children are somehow sick or in any way supportive or enabling of his addiction. The answer to this issue is DIVORCE.

The real question is , how do you get power of attorney to take care of someone who OBVIOUSLY isn't capable of caring for himself. And, what kind of institutional care is available for someone who does not want to get sober and is not homeless?


Selenophelia answered...

I don't think anyone who has ever loved someone so deeply would question why the spouse stays for so long. Hope. Hope that the person you fell in love with would get well. Hope that the dreams you shared would finally come to fruition. Hope that the loss of the last job, new DUI, accident, or anything else that should be a wake up call would sink in this time. Hope that the lifetime you invested in this person that you thought you would grow old with would come back to reality. Hope and love are the hardest things to fight. At least they are for me. I finally realized all these things died a long time ago. He isn't that person anymore. I'm trying to get the courage to scoop up the pieces and move on.

I wish there was more legal assistance for families of alcoholics. Not necessarily to help them get well, because everyone who stated this was right, they can't be forced. But what I wish is that something could be done immediately when the situation gets so bad that the family or spouse is about to lose everything waiting for the divorce to become final.

I look at my husband with his dimentia and wonder when, not if, he will kill someone. I wonder every day when I'm driving home from work if I will find him dead, the house burned down, etc. He has been sitting here all evening coming through his phone contacts over and over with no intent. He is by all rights no longer capable of making sound decisions, but still has access to our money and his car keys. Why won't the laws help???

I was ready to baker act him until I did some research. I guess this type of insanity doesn't qualify.