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Helping Your Loved One With An Addiction To Alcohol

An estimated 14.5 million people in the US have an alcohol addiction, also called an alcohol use disorder (AUD). This long-term brain condition causes individuals to continue with destructive drinking habits despite the effects on their health, career, and personal relationships. Family members and friends are often negatively impacted by these behaviors in addition to having a great concern for their loved one. If someone in your life is struggling with an addiction to alcohol, there are ways to offer help and support during their journey towards recovery

It is important to know that you and your family are not alone. A 2017 report showed that 7.5 million children in the US live with a parent who has an AUD. Because addiction does not discriminate, it can affect any family, anywhere. Nearly everyone has been touched by addiction in some way. 

How To Tell If Your Loved One Has An Alcohol Use Disorder

An alcohol use disorder is a diagnosable medical condition that occurs when an individual is unable to stop unhealthy drinking habits despite negative effects in other areas of their life. Although symptoms can range from mild to severe, there can be long-lasting changes made to the brain at any level.

While an alcohol addiction can only be diagnosed by a medical professional, you can evaluate the concerns you have for your loved one through a list of common warning signs. Your loved one may have an addiction to alcohol if they exhibit any of the following.

  • They are drinking in larger quantities or for longer periods of time.
  • They have had unsuccessful attempts at stopping alcohol use.
  • They experience cravings for alcohol.
  • They struggle to meet their obligations because of their drinking habits.
  • They stop doing other activities that they enjoy in order to drink.
  • They frequently drink alcohol in dangerous situations.
  • They have developed a tolerance for alcohol.
  • They have withdrawal symptoms when they are not drinking.
  • They continue to drink although it causes health or personal issues.

Effects Of Alcoholism On The Family

The effects of an alcohol use disorder are not just limited to the individual. Families, friends, and other people in one’s life are affected by an alcohol addiction. When alcohol becomes the most important thing in a person’s life and they are willing to go to any lengths to drink, their personal relationships can be impacted. Judgment becomes impaired which can lead them to make decisions they usually would not make. Behaviors that can damage relationships include: 

  • Mood swings 
  • Paranoia 
  • Irrational anger
  • Verbal or physical assault
  • Less time spent together 
  • Stealing money, credit cards, or items of value 
  • Job loss

Children of those with an alcohol addiction may experience the greatest effects. It is estimated that 18% of Americans lived with an individual who had an alcohol addiction while growing up. This type of living situation likely makes it so a child has to take on more responsibilities at a young age. This can lead to feelings of abandonment, anger, or resentment. Studies have also shown that children who have parents who struggle with an AUD are 4x more likely to drink excessively as an adult. Children in these situations should know that addiction is a disorder that requires treatment and that they are not in control of their parent’s drinking.

Advice for children on coping with an alcoholic parent.

The siblings of a person with an alcohol addiction may also resent the individual and their parents as a result of feeling neglected. Parents who have a child with an alcohol addiction experience high levels of anxiety, depression, stress, and may even develop their own substance use disorders. To talk with someone about finding treatment for your family member, call a treatment provider for free here.

Expressing Your Concerns

Because alcohol addiction can have these significant impacts on a family, it’s important to express your concerns early on. While having this conversation will likely be difficult, further effects to your family can be prevented if they choose to seek treatment. 

Although you should express your concerns to your loved one, you can’t force them to deal with their addiction to alcohol. What you can do is offer your support and get support for yourself. 

Use these tips when approaching a loved one about their struggles with an alcohol use disorder (AUD). 

Tips For Communicating With Your Loved One

To make sure this conversation goes as smoothly as possible, it is important that your loved one be sober at the time. Choosing words that belittle, criticize, or insult your loved one will likely be counter productive. Instead speak to your loved one with understanding and kindness. When they respond to your concerns, don’t disagree with them. Your outside perspective is often different from their reality. Admitting that they are struggling may not be easy, but making it clear that you respect and understand them may help.

Tips on communicating.

Using accurate and respectful language is essential when expressing your concerns. Stereotypes and stigmatized words can influence how your loved one feels about themselves. Avoid using the word “clean” when referring to going to treatment. This implies that a person with an AUD is perceived as dirty. Words like “addict” and “alcoholic” can be dehumanizing and accusatory. Instead, use person-first language like “person with an alcohol addiction.”

Tips on communicating.

Before this conversation, you will want to do some research to educate yourself on addiction. This can help you to communicate your concerns with factual support. One of the most important things to understand is that an AUD, and addiction in general, is a disorder and not a moral failing. Even after you have done research, you shouldn’t assume that you know everything about addiction or your loved one’s situation. Every person with an addiction has their own experience. 

Tips on communicating.

When you express your concerns to your loved one, you will want to utilize active listening. This means making a concerted effort to hear and understand their response. You should avoid interrupting and passing judgment. Let them know that you are listening by making eye contact and nodding when appropriate. It is also important to speak to your loved one as you typically would if they were not struggling with alcohol. Try to not come across as if you are assuming the worst about their situation. 

Tips on communicating.

Offering Your Help

During this conversation, you should let your loved one know that you will be there to support them through their recovery journey. If you encourage your loved one to attend counseling or a group meeting, you can offer to drive them to and from their meetings. Try suggesting activities to do together that do not involve alcohol. Whatever help you offer, you should be as specific as possible. Start by asking how you can help. This way you can learn more about what problems they are facing, such as housing, legal issues, or domestic abuse, and provide specific help. 

Boundaries are crucial when offering help to your loved one. You will need to be consistent when communicating what your concerns are and what you expect from them. This can prevent enabling from occurring. Enabling can happen if you begin to excuse your loved one’s behaviors or assist them in ways that allow them to continue their drinking habits, like lending money. This makes it so your loved one does not experience the consequences of their behaviors. Empowering your loved one with the tools and skills needed to overcome their alcohol addiction is much more effective. 

The signs of an enabler.

Taking Care Of Yourself

Your loved one’s addiction can take a toll on you emotionally and mentally. For this reason, you need to make sure you are getting the support you need to stay safe and healthy. To make sure you are not taking on too much, involve other family members and friends to help. It can be helpful to seek counseling or support groups designed for families affected by alcohol addiction, like Al-Anon.

If you begin to feel as if your loved one is putting you in an unsafe position, you may have to remove yourself from the situation. It is possible that this distance could encourage your loved one to seek treatment. 

How To Have An Intervention

An intervention is a structured way for a group of family and friends to approach an individual about their AUD. This group, often with the help of a professional, presents specific examples of how their addiction has impacted others and asks their loved one to accept treatment immediately. A treatment plan is predetermined should they accept. It is important that each member be clear about what they will do if the individual refuses treatment. 

For an intervention to be successful, it should not be done spur of the moment. Choosing a set day and time allows the group to prepare accordingly. This might include doing research to understand alcohol addiction, having a practice run of the intervention, and creating a list of calm responses. Most importantly, all members of the group should be on the same page.  

Things To Remember

However you plan on helping your loved one, try to be prepared for them to not accept. In this situation, don’t blame yourself or take it personally. You can’t control them or force them to seek treatment. In this situation, continue to offer support without enabling. To discover available treatment options for your loved one, contact a treatment provider today.