How to help an alcoholic? A resource for concerned family members.
Feeling helpless as a loved one struggles with alcoholism? It's difficult to watch someone you love suffer and change right before your eyes. You want to help them get better and be happy again, but don't know how. The good news is that there are plenty of resources out there for you. In this article, we will explore some tips on what you can do to help them combat alcohol addiction and reach sobriety.
The important thing is that you are not alone, there are a number of ways you can help your family member or loved one but it's important for you to educate yourself on what alcoholism is and the best ways to approach them while managing your well-being.
One question many concerned partners, parents, family members and friends ask is how do they know for sure their loved one is indeed a alcoholic.
Review the information below to gain a better perspective on your loved ones status and if they need treatment.
What is Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)?
Alcoholism or Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is a terrible disease that can destroy relationships, careers, families, and lives.
Alcoholism is a chronic illness where an individual has lost control over their drinking habits and experiences physical dependence on alcohol. It is estimated that 17 million people in the United States suffer from alcoholism (approximately 2% of adults). Alcohol Facts and Statistics
What are the signs and symptoms of chronic alcoholism?
There are many signs and symptoms of chronic alcoholism, but they vary from person to person.
It is important for friends or loved ones of those struggling with alcohol abuse to learn the particular warning signs that would indicate a problem such as drinking first thing in the morning or not being able to remember what happened after excessive consumption on previous nights out.
At times this can be difficult because people may have different ideas about what constitutes "excessive" usage (i.e., One drink per day versus 15 drinks).
Also, there are no specific guidelines dictating how long someone needs to drink before it becomes an addiction; however, research suggests that most people who struggle with alcohol use disorders tend to fall into one of two categories: binge drinkers who drink heavily on a regular basis, or chronic drinkers who drink smaller amounts over an extended period of time.
How much do you need to drink to be an alcoholic?
Research has shown that in order to be an alcoholic, a person's drinking must meet at least two of the following criteria:
- Drinking more or longer than intended
- Wanting or trying unsuccessfully to cut down on alcohol use
- Spending a lot of time obtaining alcohol, using it or recovering from its effects
- Continuing to drink despite personal problems caused or worsened by drinking
- Giving up important social, occupational or recreational activities because of alcohol use
If your friend or family member has been meeting two or more of these criteria for a year or longer, then it is likely that their drinking meets the definition of alcoholism. But there's no such thing as one-size-fits all approach to alcoholism, and how the condition impacts different people can be quite varied.
It's likely your concern about your loved ones drinking has grown over time and has now reached a point where you are fearful they have a real problem. This is quite normal.
Alcoholism is a progressive disease that starts with accepting unacceptable behavior but can spiral out of control quickly.
What causes a person to be an alcoholic?
There is no one cause of alcoholism. It can be an inherited trait, due to a traumatic experience or due to abuse during childhood. Some people may even drink too much as they're trying to cope with stress or other life traumas while others might turn into alcoholics after being exposed to heavy drinking in their family and social circles since early adulthood ˜or even high school years.
A person's own body chemistry and specific brain wiring also play roles in the development of alcoholism, but again this varies from individual-to-individual so it's difficult for us to determine exactly what causes someone else's addiction without knowing them personally. What we do know is that some personal characteristics are associated with higher risk: genetic vulnerability (such as family history), age, high impulsivity (or difficulty saying no or resisting temptations), and low self-esteem.
What are the stages of alcohol abuse?
There are different stages of alcoholism, and although none of them may seem like an issue at first, they can progress. It's important to know what the signs are and how one progresses through each stage in order for loved ones to intervene sooner rather than later:
Stage One - Loss of Control
The person either drinks more or longer than intended; has difficulty cutting down on drinking
Stage Two - Use Becomes Priority
Alcohol now becomes the main focus in life instead of other activities that were once priorities before.
Stage Three - Dependence and Abuse
In the later stages of alcoholism individuals may experience psychiatric disorders such as anxiety attacks; depression with suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts ; low self-esteem from their inability to stop drinking despite negative consequences in relationships etc.; difficulty concentrating due to brain fog caused by prolonged heavy drinking over time.
Reaching Out, Connecting, and Offering Help
It all starts with a conversation.
How do you talk to someone who drinks too much?
It's not easy to talk about the things that hurt us. It may seem like you're putting your loved one on the spot, but they are likely dealing with a lot of guilt and shame as well.
Try to get a sense of how they think about drinking and what kind of patterns they see themselves following over time. It's also important not to put pressure on this conversation; if someone is unwilling to talk with you about their drinking problem, then this might not be the right time.
Create a plan
It is important to establish a plan before you talk to your loved one about their alcohol abuse.
Write down the main points you'd like to convey as a way to keep your conversation to the point and brief. Some things you may want to consider when creating your conversation plan are:
Focus on your feelings concerning their drinking.
Using 'I' statements to share how you feel will lessen the chance of the conversation being derailed by defensive arguments.
"I feel sad when I see you drink."
"I'm worried that alcohol is affecting your health in a negative way."
"I feel our relationship is becoming strained due to your drinking."
Share your concerns about their health.
Make note of ways you've observed the impact of their drinking on their health (including mental health) or your concerned of their future health:
"I've noticed you are having difficulty health issues lately. Your sleeping habits have changed so much and I'm concerned drinking has kept you up at night.
Focus on them as a person and try not to label them as an 'alcoholic' or 'addict'.
Labels like “alcoholic” or “addict” are not helpful when dealing with people who have an addiction. Instead, we should focus on the person and their behavior without labeling them as anything specific. Alcoholics can be offended by these labels because it suggests they cannot control themselves and may feel ashamed that other people know about their problem.
Make sure they feel understood and cared for.
By choosing empathetic statements, you're starting off your conversation on a positive note. Such phrases are better than those that blame people for their drinking problem or make them feel worse about themselves in any way whatsoever.
Asking open-ended, non-judgmental questions to get to them to open up and talk about their alcohol problem and help find solutions together instead of telling him/her how they should be feeling.
Regardless of the outcome of the conversation, there several ways to you can love and care for an alcoholic, in and outside of treatment.
How to Help An Alcoholic without Enabling Them
Enabling is the act of supporting or assisting someone else in continuing to drink alcohol. It's important not to enable an alcoholic because it will only worsen their addiction and make the problem worse for everyone involved.
- Be supportive and understanding when they are sober.
- Be aware of how your words and actions affect them.
- Don't enable their drinking by providing alcohol or money to purchase it.
- Don't keep secrets from others about the alcoholic's behavior or whereabouts, as this may be enabling them.
- Find other activities for them to do besides drinking.
- Recognize that the alcoholic is responsible for their own actions and be honest about the consequences of their behavior has on you and your relationship. Having (and enforcing) personal boundaries is not cruel or neglectful - it is necessary for both of your well being.
- Keep an eye out for mood swings like anger, depression, withdrawal symptoms such as nausea/vomiting/cramps and inquire in a concerned way.
- Remember that alcoholism is a disease- not something they chose on purpose; remember also that they need support but don't need sympathy.
- Get professional help if necessary - there are many resources available to assist you in finding a solution for the alcoholic's problem including rehab center and treatment programs near you.
- Attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings together or seek out a counselor who specializes in addiction recovery. It is important to show support and be encouraging for someone struggling with alcoholism because they may become defensive if confronted directly.
Seek Support for Yourself
When dealing with an alcoholic loved one, it is important to remember that you are not alone.
There are a lot of resources and support groups available for family members of alcoholics such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon which can be very beneficial during this difficult time in your life.
Al-Anon is an international non-profit organization that helps people who are affected by someone else's drinking. There are different levels of support available to suit your needs, from self help meetings and helpline services through to more intensive counselling and therapy groups.
It's also helpful to speak about the situation openly and honestly with close friends and family about your loved ones alcohol addiction and your concern for them.
It is highly recommended that you seek help from a certified mental health professional who specializes in treating the family of those struggling with alcohol.