Watching a loved one succumb to alcohol use disorder is a painful experience.
From your point of view, they just need to stop drinking. If only it were that simple. How to help an alcoholic?
To understand how you can help your alcoholic loved one, you need to educate yourself about the nature of alcohol use disorder.
Addiction is a family disease. That means it affects every person close to the individual with alcohol use disorder.
Having an alcoholic loved one entails dealing with lies, self-destruction, and denial. The pain of watching a loved one self-destruct challenges your sanity at times.
Another’s alcohol addiction has a huge impact on their health, finances, and relationships with their children, families, and friends.
It is common for family members to rally round their addicted loved one in the hope of mitigating the disastrous consequences of their behavior. They may try to prevent them from going to jail, losing their job, or keep their relationships with their children.
The chaos that spills into your life, as a result, takes its toll over time. Eventually, you come to realize that despite feeling exhausted and exasperated, the alcohol addicted loved one’s problem hasn’t changed.
That’s because you’ve been enabling their addiction.
For an addicted person to seek treatment, they have to want it.
Only until they suffer serious enough consequences will a person feel the desire to get help. Providing a safety net for the addicted person delays any consequences so they feel excused to continue drinking.
It could be that your addicted loved one doesn’t know they have a problem and feel they have it under control.
Enabling does not help the person with an alcohol use disorder, it makes it worse.
What Is Alcohol Use Disorder?
Alcohol use disorder is a progressive brain disease. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines alcohol use disorder as an inability to stop or control alcohol drinking, even when it has negative consequences.
Around 15 million US citizens have an alcohol use disorder, however, only 10% of people receive treatment.
As alcohol use disorder is progressive it gets worse over time if it isn’t properly addressed. A quality evidence-based treatment program that incorporates cognitive behavioral therapy can help a person to overcome their drinking problem and drastically improve their self-esteem.
What Causes Alcohol Use Disorder?
It’s not completely understood although it is believed that mental health problems typically underpin addictions.
Mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and bipolar disorder can cause a significant amount of emotional pain. A person may self-medicate with alcohol to alleviate mental health symptoms.
Drinking alcohol regularly over time causes chemical changes in the brain. Eventually, a person may become so dependent on alcohol that they need to drink to get through the day.
Treating Alcohol Use Disorder
The good news is that alcohol use disorder is treatable on the condition that the person who is addicted is ready and willing to accept help.
It’s dangerous for a person to stop drinking suddenly. As the central nervous system is accustomed to being sedated with alcohol it goes into a state of shock and can cause a seizure. Seizures can be fatal.
Medication such as benzodiazepines is necessary for detoxing from alcohol as it relaxes the central nervous system, keeps the nervous system relaxed, prevents the body from going into shock, and prevents heart attacks or seizures.
Cognitive behavior therapy is a powerful talk therapy that encourages a person to identify their negative thought patterns that drive their alcohol use disorder.
For instance, a person may realize that they drink because they have a social anxiety disorder. This anxiety disorder could be underpinned by a negative core belief that a person “isn’t good enough” or “isn’t lovable.”
Cognitive behavior therapy teaches a person to reverse those thought patterns. Over time a person can improve their confidence and self-esteem so that they no longer need to use alcohol as a social crutch.
What You Should Know
Don’t be ashamed of your loved one’s addiction. Addiction is a common problem, it affects around 24 million Americans over 12.
Every person in the US knows at least one person who is struggling with an addiction to drugs or drink.
Knowing how to help an alcoholic that doesn’t want help takes education, patience, and a different approach to what you may already be using.
How To Help An Alcoholic Friend or Relative
Rather than play the role of caregiver, play the role of landlord.
The caregiver will ring in sick for the loved one, give them money, or testify in court to prevent them from going to jail.
The landlord on the other hand will not enable it. The landlord places sanctions on a person if they don’t pay their rent. A family member that plays the landlord will not tolerate the alcoholic’s drinking. Instead, they practice tough love.
By not giving in to the alcoholic person’s demands or requests for money or covering for them when they go to work they must deal with the consequences of their actions.
They will go through some considerable pain, shame, and embarrassment. This may be difficult for you, but when a person suffers the consequences of their drinking it makes life sufficiently uncomfortable to make them want to make a change.
They must become tired of feeling sick and shameful. They must get to a point of exhaustion where they feel that stopping drinking is the only way they can start to enjoy life.
To help an alcoholic loved one, educate yourself about the disease. Understand that addiction is more often the result of unresolved psychological issues.
You could read books on the subject, and visit an addiction specialist. Learn about your role in the alcoholic person’s life. Perhaps your relationship is fraught with difficulty? Or maybe you also have an alcohol use disorder?
You could also attend a peer support group such as Al-Anon.
What Is A-Anon?
Al-Anon is a 12-step recovery program for loved ones of alcoholics.
The 12-step program takes a person through a series of steps or lessons to receive their higher power. Each lesson encourages the person to learn an aspect of how to be a better person.
By improving each aspect of a person’s life, they become more tolerant, loving, and accepting. The steps help a person to examine their lives and address their shortcomings. One step requires the person to seek forgiveness from themselves and people they have wronged in their life.
While 12-step programs are spiritually based, many atheists get a great deal of strength from them. You don’t necessarily need to believe in God, but be prepared to suspend judgment. Many atheists see others in the fellowship as their higher power.
Why Would You Do The 12 Steps?
This is a good question.
You may not realize it, but a loved one’s alcohol problem plays havoc with your life.
Anger, confusion, stress, helplessness, grief, and sadness are typical emotions felt by the person who loves an alcoholic.
You need emotional support, and you need to gain an understanding of the nature of addiction.
People gain a huge amount of support from others who share the same experiences. You can learn a great deal from people in Al-Anon as some have learned to manage their loved one’s addiction.
Getting A Person To Treatment
You can’t force a person to go to treatment, they must desire to get better.
Staying free of alcohol after detox is a huge challenge for a person who habitually drinks. It takes determination and inner work to develop healthier new habits and stay on track.
To help a person want to get treatment you can try the following steps.
Contact an addiction counselor. Addiction counselors are highly trained therapists who can help the family work together to perform an intervention.
An intervention is an action or a series of actions where the family confronts the addicted person. The intervention aims to enlighten the person with an alcohol use disorder about the severity of their problem to get them to treatment.
Practice tough love. As we mentioned before, a person must feel sufficiently tired of the negative consequences of their drinking.
Show your support whenever you can. Remind them that you are there for them if they wish to get well. In some cases, you may need to remove yourself from their vicinity, but always remind them that you are there for them.
People with alcohol use disorder experience feelings of shame, guilt, and embarrassment. Always try to be kind yet firm. If you nag, threaten, or argue with a person with an alcohol use disorder, you can make them worse leading them to drink more.
Lastly, take care of your emotional health. Keep healthy boundaries and stick to them. Stay away from enabling behaviors and ensure that you utilize the right support.
The District Recovery Community
Now, if you feel like someone in your life needs residential rehab for alcohol use disorder, we can help here at District Recovery.
Contact us online or call us at 844.287.8506. We’re here and ready to discuss the best options to help your loved one get back on track.