Living with an alcoholic is remarkably challenging for all members of the family.
With the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health reporting that 28.5 million adults in America have alcohol use disorder and the effects of alcoholism rippling far beyond the end-user, tens of millions of households are impacted by this issue in the United States.
Living with an alcoholic husband and living with an alcoholic parent may present different difficulties but to overcome these challenges and get your loved one the help they need, you should start by learning as much as possible about alcohol use disorder (the clinical descriptor for alcoholism).
Beyond this, you should keep in mind that you are not the cause of your loved one’s alcohol abuse, and you should not position yourself as the cure either. Addiction is a chronic condition with no cure, but it is treatable.
To contribute positively to your loved one’s recovery, you first need to establish the scope and severity of their alcohol use disorder.
How to Know if You’re Living with An Alcoholic
Many cases of alcohol use disorder start with patterns of excessive drinking. Excessive drinking can take the following forms:
- Binge drinking
- Heavy drinking
Binge drinking involves the intake of large volumes of alcohol in a brief timeframe. For men, that means consuming five or more drinks in two hours, and for women, binge drinking is defined as consuming four or more drinks in the same period.
When women consume more than 8 alcoholic drinks per week or men consume 15 or more alcoholic drinks per week, CDC classifies this as heavy drinking.
If you suspect you are living with an alcoholic, you can also look out for the following physical signs of alcoholism:
- Weight loss or weight gain
- The smell of alcohol on the breath
- Poor personal hygiene
- Reddened nose and face
- Dry skin with more wrinkles
- Brittle nails and hair
- Yellowed skin and eyes
- Shaking hands
If you are living with an alcoholic loved one, you are also liable to encounter a variety of poor behaviors at the hands of the alcoholic. Even though it might be tough, try to keep in mind that alcoholism is defined by a compulsive desire to drink despite adverse consequences. Your loved one may not even be aware at this stage that they have alcohol use disorder.
So, patterns of heavy drinking or binge drinking can indicate alcohol use disorder is developing, and you can also pick up on physical and behavioral markers. How, though, can you get a more precise diagnosis of your loved one’s alcoholism?
While alcohol is legal and socially acceptable, excessive drinking over time can easily develop into an alcohol use disorder.
Alcohol use disorder is a chronic and relapsing brain condition that can trigger serious health problems, from high blood pressure and liver damage to heart issues and an increased risk of some forms of cancer. Alcoholism is a family disease, too. The negative effects ripple out through the whole family, with NDSUH 2020 showing that more people than ever before are struggling with alcoholism.
It might be simple to detect when someone has been drinking alcohol. From smelling alcohol on the breath to noticing signs like slurred speech, reduced inhibitions, and a lack of motor coordination, it’s not hard to tell when someone is intoxicated. What can be much more demanding is identifying whether someone has alcohol use disorder.
Alcohol use disorder is diagnosed based on responses to these 11 questions outlined in DSM-5:
- Often drinking more than intended or drinking for longer than intended.
- Wanting to stop or control drinking but without success.
- Spending large chunks of time drinking or recovering from the effects of drinking.
- Experiencing powerful cravings for alcohol.
- Running into problems at home, work, or school due to drinking or being sick from drinking.
- Spending less time on activities previously enjoyed to make more time for drinking.
- Engaging in dangerous behaviors like driving under the influence or having unprotected sex.
- Finding tolerance builds so more alcohol is required to achieve the same effects.
- Experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
- Drinking despite feeling anxious or depressed.
- Continuing to drink alcohol in the face of these adverse outcomes.
Based on responses to the above questions over the previous month, alcohol use disorder is diagnosed as follows:
- Mild alcohol use disorder: 2 or 3 symptoms
- Moderate alcohol use disorder: 4 or 5 symptoms
- Severe alcohol use disorder: 6 or more symptoms
Alcohol use disorder is a progressive disease, so the quicker you help your loved one get the treatment they need, the better.
By paying attention to all of the above warning signs, and by assessing your loved one against the above framework for alcohol use disorder, you are now ready for action. What do you need to do, though?
What to Do When Living with An Alcoholic
By learning as much as possible about alcoholism, you’ll streamline the process of helping your loved one engage with the professional treatment they need. Educating yourself about alcohol use disorder will also help shine a light on some behaviors that you might otherwise find even more frustrating and confusing – your loved one denying the existence of a problem, for instance.
Here are some practical ways to cope with an alcoholic family member.
- Do not neglect your needs: Living with an alcoholic can be intensely demanding and all-consuming. Ensure you do not neglect your own self-care, though. Avoid blaming yourself and avoid the temptation to force your loved one into recovery.
- Form a life independent from your alcoholic loved one: While it might seem counterintuitive to spend time away from someone you are trying to help, you should take regular time out for your own interests and activities. Spending time away from an alcoholic will give you valuable respite and help you to stay focused on what counts: getting your loved one the help they need.
- Set firm boundaries for acceptable and unacceptable behavior and stick to these boundaries: Set personal boundaries – not drinking in the house or not drinking around the kids, for example – and make sure you do not weaken. Put sanctions in place and uphold these if your loved one breaches boundaries.
- Do not enable your loved one’s alcohol addiction: When living with an alcoholic, you need to strike a delicate balance, helping them engage with recovery without enabling their alcohol addiction. From giving them money to drink to cover up for their behavior, from ignoring the problem completely to making baseless ultimatums, enabling an alcoholic will not help them. Indeed, enabling your loved one’s addiction will delay them from reaching the point where they become receptive to engaging with professional treatment. So, sever their safety net and your loved one will be forced to confront the consequences of their alcohol use disorder.
- Accept the limitations of your role in your loved one’s recovery: You can play a valuable role in connecting your loved one with the appropriate addiction treatment, but you should not take on the responsibility of recovery for them.
- Get help for yourself: If you find the stress of living with an alcoholic is getting too much, consider reaching out to mutual aid groups like Al-Anon. This sister group of Alcoholics Anonymous is designed specifically for the family members of alcoholics. You could also speak with your healthcare provider for a referral to a counseling service. It can be therapeutic to offload your worries and to get feedback from others who understand your plight.
- Aim to connect your loved one with the alcohol addiction treatment they need:
- The most important thing you can do for your loved one is to help them detox from alcohol, whether at home or in a medical detox center and then to engage with inpatient or outpatient treatment. You may meet with denial, and you may also meet with resistance to the idea of rehab, but you should stay focused on persuading your loved one to commit to recovery. If you find your loved one is entirely unreceptive to the idea of treatment, you could consider a formal intervention.
What can your loved one expect if they engage with treatment for alcohol use disorder at The District Recovery Community?
Well, we offer a variety of outpatient programs to help your loved one get sober. Regular outpatient treatment involves a couple of weekly therapy sessions, but for more severe alcohol use disorders, we provide more intensive treatment. With an IOP (intensive outpatient program) or a PHP (partial hospitalization program), your loved one benefits from much more structure and time commitment without needing to head to residential rehab.
After your loved one has detoxed from alcohol, our programs for alcohol use disorder deliver the following:
When your loved one finishes treatment, they have access to a robust alumni program to minimize their chances of relapse.
To make this possible and to help unchain your loved one from alcohol addiction, reach out to TDRC today at 844.287.8506.