How can I help my father, a paraplegic and alcoholic, who is refusing all assistance?

3 answers | Last updated: Aug 01, 2017
A fellow caregiver asked...

My father is 65 years old and has been a paraplegic the past six years. He has been living in a small room in his house, which has become very unsanitary. He has surrendered to the long addiction of alcohol binging and is in a constant state of intoxication. He has refused to be seen by any doctor of any kind and has been declining year after year. What can I do to get him off this destructive path? I have thought about moving him into an assisted living residence but I don’t know what authority I have in this situation.

Expert Answers

Martha Clark Scala has been a psychotherapist in private practice since 1992, with offices in Palo Alto and San Francisco, California. She regularly writes about grief and loss, the necessity of self-care, and substance abuse. Her e-newsletter, "Out on a Limb," is available to subscribers through her website.

It must be painful to witness your father's self-destruction. And your question underscores how utterly powerless loved ones can be in the face of alcohol addiction. It's not clear whether your father was an alcoholic before becoming a paraplegic, but it sounds as if his alcohol intake has worsened in the past six years.

Since your father claims he wants no medical intervention or attention, there's a sense that drinking is his only way of coping with the losses he has weathered. If he is constantly intoxicated, he remains somewhat oblivious to all of his hardships, including the unsanitary state of his home. Sadly, he may be equally oblivious to the impact his behavior is having on you and other family members.

You may be facing the unfortunate task of surrendering to the fact that your father is on a path of self-destruction. He is not likely to turn this around without external assistance or involvement. You and other family members could take action to have your father's practical, physical and emotional needs addressed.

Sometimes, this type of action has a happy ending. Sometimes, it does not. If you and family members are completely aligned about wanting to get your father in treatment for his addiction, you have to consider the consequences of doing something against his will. On the other hand, it must be pretty lousy to consider the consequences if no action is taken on his behalf.

Have you thought about doing a family intervention? Intervention can be extremely potent in reversing destructive behavior, especially if the message the recipient gets is consistent and unwavering from each person who participates.

You might also consider getting an adult guardianship or conservatorship. This is a fairly drastic measure, but can be set up if a judge decides that your father can't take care of his own care and finances.

The person or people named to act as a conservator for your father would then be responsible for ensuring:

  • appropriate housing
  • health and medical care
  • food and clothing
  • housekeeping and personal care
  • transportation and recreation, and
  • counsel in all legal matters.

A conservator might also be appointed to manage your father’s estate, and be responsible for:

  • managing his finances
  • protecting his assets
  • applying for benefits on his behalf, and
  • paying bills.

Your first stop for good information about specifics for filing and possible legal help with getting a conservatorship would be the local probate court.

No matter what course of action you take, or cannot take, consider working with a therapist to help you process the myriad feelings that this situation evokes. In addition, Al-Anon is an absolutely fabulous resource for those who are concerned about a loved one's drinking. See if you can find a nearby meeting to get ongoing support from others who have faced similar issues. The plus of Al-Anon is that it's free, and it is always there.

Community Answers

Henryocarn480 answered...

There may be another avenue of action in that, if your father has said anything that could be or is a direct threat to his life or the lives of others then some states allow them(your father) to be placed under the care of an institution(local or state) until they are evaluated. Once again, as noted in the discussion above, this may hold personal ramifications for your relationship but then what if you do nothing. The pain of being on the outside watching a loved one self destruct is gut wrenching, but getting them away from the substance for awhile may clear their heads enough for them to willingly seek help. Few alcoholics can be reached in the middle of an active run, as you have already found. Your father can still be reached as long as he is alive, if he can find a willingness and the help to addresses his fears. Maybe getting in touch with an AA group to do a 12th step call on your father may help.

A fellow caregiver answered...

If he is paraplegic, how is he getting his alcohol? If you are getting it for him, STOP.