Getting Help For An Alcoholic In The Family

Alcohol addiction affects millions of Americans and their families. Knowing how to help a family member struggling with alcoholism can be difficult, especially if you aren’t sure where to begin.

helping a loved one with alcoholism

All too often, family members struggle to find a way to help their loved ones suffering from a disease like alcoholism. Alcoholism can become a “dirty little secret” that is hidden from the rest of the family, friends, and acquaintances.

As the family member sinks deeper into addiction, they may not realize the negative impact that alcohol is having on their life. Relationships and responsibilities suffer immensely, and things that used to be important are tossed aside.

Finding the words to confront the situation can be complicated and, in some cases, feel impossible. Emotions can run high, and everyone involved can end up feeling frustrated, upset, angry, let down, and overwhelmed.

However, there are options available when a family member is committed to finding assistance for a loved one struggling with alcohol addiction.

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Does My Family Member Have A Drinking Problem?

There are so many terms that are used to define alcoholism, and while many use them interchangeably, some have vastly different meanings. Terms like ‘drinking problem’, ‘alcohol abuse’, ‘binge drinking’, ‘heavy drinking’, ‘alcoholic’, ‘alcohol addiction’, ‘alcohol dependent’, and ‘alcohol use disorder’ are just some of the words used to explain excessive drinking and more.

Alcohol abuse, or drinking problem, are terms for most issues that are directly related to excessive alcohol consumption and its negative effects. A person who continues to drink despite negative impact is considered to have a drinking problem, whether they are addicted to alcohol or not.

Binge drinking and heavy drinking are also considered alcohol abuse. A person who consumes more than four to five drinks in a two hour period is considered a binge drinker. One in six adults binge drinks an average of four times a month. The data concludes that nearly 17 million drinks are consumed yearly by binge drinkers in the United States.

Binge drinking is the most common and dangerous form of alcohol consumption. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, binge drinking results in major health issues, including blackouts, car accidents, cancer, and death. Heavy drinking is defined by binge drinking more than five times in a month.

Abusing alcohol by drinking in excess (binge or heavy drinking) can lead to alcohol dependence and addiction. Once the body becomes alcohol dependent, alcohol cravings begin. Circuits and pathways in the brain change, and without alcohol, the brain no longer functions properly. Rewired brain pathways indicate alcohol addiction.

Alcohol addiction, or alcoholism, can result in severe behavior changes, mood swings, and changes in appearance. A person struggling with alcoholism would benefit from a medically supervised detox, as severe alcohol withdrawal can result in seizures and delirium.

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is the clinical term for the continuum used to diagnose a person struggling with alcohol abuse or addiction. Depending on criteria, a diagnosis is considered mild (2-3 criteria), moderate (4-5 criteria), or severe (six or more).

If the drinking habits of a family member are defined by any of the terms described above, it is probable that they have a drinking problem. The severity of their alcohol abuse or potential addiction should be evaluated and assessed by a medical professional.

What To Do If A Family Member Drinks Excessively

Excessive drinking may be an indication of an underlying problem, including stress, anxiety, self-esteem issues, depression, or self-medication. If a family member is abusing alcohol, it may be for any number of reasons, and acknowledging the issue may help find a solution.

It may be best to keep a conversation about alcohol abuse simple and honest. In this way, the door is open for your loved one to respond with the same truthfulness. Additionally, being clear about how excessive drinking is impacting the rest of the family may provide insight that the relative had not realized.

Additional suggestions for families when dealing with a loved one with a drinking problem may include:

  • get educated about the nature of alcohol abuse and alcoholism
  • support positive changes
  • understand that a loved one’s alcohol abuse is not your fault, or to be taken personally
  • realize that sobriety is a process, as is recovery
  • let your loved one experience consequences, even the scary ones
  • set clear boundaries for both you and your loved one
  • explore treatment options for yourself, the family, or family member
  • consider an intervention for your loved one and family

Conversely, there are some things a person should avoid when dealing with a loved one who is struggling with alcohol abuse or addiction, such as:

  • enabling
  • covering up the alcohol abuse
  • give in or destroy established boundaries
  • attempt to control your loved one or their addiction
  • trying to fix or cure the problem
  • accepting being abused or unacceptable actions or behaviors
  • having unrealistic expectations
  • believing you can rescue your loved one
  • living in the past

Confronting The Person With The Drinking Problem

It is important to approach an individual struggling with a drinking problem carefully. This complicated discussion has the potential to evoke strong emotions of everyone involved. Remaining focused on being supportive and moving forward in a healthy way may help.

Alcoholism often co-occurs with other mental health disorders, like depression and anxiety. Being aware of some of the warning signs of these disorders can help family members be more sensitive to the nature of their family members alcohol addiction.

Being prepared and having information available regarding treatment options can help transition the conversation from concern to action. An addicted family member might be more receptive to a loved one who offers solutions, as opposed to blame or guilt.

Some families choose to stage an intervention in an attempt to persuade their loved one to go to treatment. Addiction specialists encourage seeking assistance from therapists, doctors, or individuals who are specially trained to conduct interventions. These professionals can help family members prepare for or lead the intervention.

Effects Of Alcoholism On The Family

Alcoholism is a chaotic disease. The unpredictability of excessive alcohol use can result in an extremely stressful living environment for everyone involved. Day-to-day activities are often over-complicated or avoided altogether by the individual abusing alcohol.

Emotions tend to run high in a household held hostage by alcoholism. Whether it is a frustrated partner, an attention-seeking child, or an irritable parent, these negative emotions can sabotage the family structure.

All too often, the family becomes accustomed to the constant state of disarray that alcohol addiction brings. The family may make attempts to appreciate the positive moments and survive the hangovers, outbursts, and instability of having an alcoholic family member. Meanwhile, disregarding the severity of the negative impact on the family unit.

Overall, alcohol addiction negatively influences the family as a whole and individuals as well. Support groups and treatment options for family members of those addicted to drugs and alcohol are available regardless if their loved one has entered treatment or not.

Treatment Options For Alcoholism

Many inpatient and outpatient treatment options exist for alcohol abuse and addiction. There are specialized facilities that cater to men, women, professionals, and teens and adolescents, among other specific demographics. Other treatment facilities offer wilderness rehab, equestrian therapy, traditional, 12-step, and non-12-step options.

Our staff is available to discuss alcohol abuse and addiction treatment options for you and your family. Contact us today and allow us to find a solution that works best for all of you.

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