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Caregivers and Alcohol Use

Research has shown that there is a hidden behavior between caregiver burden and alcohol usage.

Anyone Can Become a Caregiver

Many people in the United States find themselves in a natural role of caregiver during their live span. Parents provide care for their children, adult children may care find themselves caring for their elderly parents, and even a spouse may care for another after an illness or injury. Which has resulted in longer life expectancies, combined with rising healthcare costs, pressures to keep individuals living in the community rather than institutionalized, have resulted in a rise in those with severe mental illnesses, those with chronic medical conditions, those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

What is Caregiver Burden?

Caregiver burden can be conceptualized as both the tasks that need to be done in the course of caregiving and the way in which the caregiver appraises the performance of these tasks.1

Caregiving tasks take many different forms. For example, caregivers may assist care recipients with activities of daily living, prepare meals, perform housekeeping tasks, run errands, or manage finances.

  • Caregivers may also be responsible for providing care after a debilitating illness or for monitoring for a person.
  • Caregivers burden highly important in part because a caregiver who is exhausted, depressed, or physically ill may be unable to provide the quality of care needed to their care recipient. While this relationship between caregiver burden and mental and physical health has been studied in detail, the relationship between caregiver burden and alcohol use has largely been ignored.

Relationship Between Caregiver Burden and Alcohol Use

As of today, no study has considered the extent to which different facets of caregiver burden are associated with problematic alcohol use. In 1989 Novak and Guest’s used Caregiver Burden Inventory, a survey designed to measure five components of caregiver burden listed above.2Each burden subscale and its expected relationship to alcohol use is described below:

  • Time-dependence burden: The time-dependence burden subscale measures the perceived impact caregiving has on the caregiver’s time.
    • Examples: My care recipient needs my help to perform daily tasks,” and “I have to watch my care recipient constantly when I am with them.”
  • Developmental burden: The developmental burden subscale measures the extent to which caregivers feel “off-time” or out-of-synch compared to the rest of their peers.
    • Examples:I feel that I am missing out on life because of caregiving,”and “My social life has suffered because of caregiving.”
  • Physical burden: The physical burden subscale measures caregivers’ feelings of fatigue due to caregiving. Examples of items in this subscale include.
    • Examples: I’m not sleeping enough because of caregiving,”and “Caregiving has made me physically sick.”
  • Social burden: The social burden subscale measures caregivers’ feelings of conflict resulting from their caregiving roles in their work and family lives. Examples of items in this subscale include,
    • Examples:” I’ve had problems with my spouse/partner because of caregiving responsibilities,”and “I don’t do as good a job at work as I used to because of my caregiving responsibilities.”
  • Emotional burden: The emotional burden subscale measures negative feelings caregivers have for their care recipient. Examples of items in this subscale include,
    • I resent my care recipient,”and “I feel uncomfortable when I have friends over because of caregiving.”

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2 Spillman BC, Black KJ. Staying the Course: Trends in Family Caregiving. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute; 2005.

3 Novak M, Guest C. Application of a multidimensional caregiver burden inventory. The Gerontologist. 1989;29:798–803.