Addiction is a family disease. It doesn’t just affect the person suffering with this condition. Family relationships, their mental and physical health, finances, and overall stability are negatively impacted by the person’s drinking.
The home environment is often tense and unpredictable, and family members may either try to deny the drinker’s behaviour, make excuses for it, or attempt to control or stop it. These are all common responses to a home life that feels like it is spinning out of control.
What are the signs of alcohol dependence?
Dependent drinkers usually experience physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly cut down or stop drinking, including:
- hand tremors – “the shakes”
- seeing things that are not real
- difficulty in sleeping
You could be dependent on alcohol if:
- you feel you should cut down on your drinking
- other people have been criticising your drinking
- you feel guilty or bad about your drinking
- you need a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover.
- You deny that you have a problem.
Someone you know may be dependent on alcohol if:
- they regularly drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week
- they’re sometimes unable to remember what happened the night before because of their drinking
- they fail to do what was expected of them as a result of their drinking (for example, missing an appointment or work because they’re drunk or hungover)
What is the best way to help?
If your loved one is suffering from addiction, it’s natural to wonder how to make them realise that they need help. For you to be asking this question, it’s likely that your loved one has reached the point where they continue to drink in spite of obvious problems caused by their drinking.
Personal, social problems that would cause most people to conclude that their drinking habit has to change, don’t typically affect alcoholics in the same way. It’s important to understand that this is not a weakness—rather, the drinker is psychologically and physiologically addicted to the substance of alcohol and requires professional help.
The challenge to this, as you likely well know, is that many alcoholics are in denial that there is a problem. No matter how obvious the problem seems to those around the alcoholic, he or she may deny that drinking is the cause of their troubles, and may blame the circumstances or people around them instead.
When readers ask how to help the drinker in their lives, the answer they usually receive is, “Unfortunately, there is not much anyone can do, until they admit they have a problem.”
While it is true that your loved one needs to actively seek sobriety and want to change, you don’t have to sit back and watch them self-destruct, just hoping and praying that a light bulb goes off in their head. There are several things you can do to intervene, show your concern and support for your loved one, offer ideas and solutions, present consequences to their continued drinking, and protect yourself from getting too wrapped up in their addict
Get Informed About Alcohol Dependence
The first step for family members and loved ones of the drinker is to learn about the disease of alcoholism. This does two things: It helps you understand your loved one’s behaviour, and it helps you stop blaming them. While the drinker will need to take responsibility for their actions in order to recover, alcoholism is a chronic disease, has understood symptoms, and is often triggered by genes and life circumstances. Above all, getting informed helps you see that your loved one is sick and suffering, not trying to hurt you personally.
As their family member, you can attend Al-Anon meetings in your area, or join an online group to learn more about the family disease of alcoholism as well as the emotional and psychological toll it is taking on you.
In Al-Anon, family members can learn how to detach from the alcoholic’s problems—not the alcoholic—and can find a wealth of Al-Anon literature to read that can help you to find solutions that lead to serenity. You will likely hear your own story in the stories of those who share with the group, creating a sense of solidarity and support. You will also learn more about the unhealthy roles you may be playing in the life of the alcoholic, and whether or not your actions may actually be enabling the alcoholic to continue in their behaviour, without you realising it. Could you be enabling their behaviour? This quiz can help you find out.
Talk with the Person in a Non-Accusatory Way
Given that an alcohol problem is a touchy subject, plan what you’re going to say ahead of time. Wait until your loved one is sober and relatively emotionally stable. Make sure you are also feeling calm, as it is important that the drinker doesn’t feel attacked or ganged-up on.
It can be humiliating to be told they may be drinking too much and their first response might be to be defensive and deny they have a problem. Show concern rather than disapproval and tell them that you’re worried about their well-being.
During this first discussion, it’s important to show how much you care about your loved one. Be genuine and honest about your concerns, including how their drinking is affecting their health and the family as a whole. You can mention a particular problem that is arising from drinking, such as financial or relationship troubles. Let them know you want to support them in stopping through helping them find treatment.
Expect some pushback. The person may be in denial. Or if they aren’t, they might suggest that they can quit on their own. This rarely ever works.
On a practical level, choosing your moment is also vital – for both of you. Make sure you’re both in the right mood, feeling calm, confident and not too emotional. You also need to be armed with as much information as possible so you can offer the person you care about the right facts and advice on where they can go to for support.
You might be surprised to find that the person concerned agrees with you. They might say: “Yes, I think I am drinking too much.” But they may not.
You can help and support them but they need to want to change their behaviour with alcohol themselves. That might mean having the same conversation with them two or three times before they accept that they do have a problem.
Worried about your parents’ drinking?
Are you worried about a parent’s drinking? If you’re concerned about how much your parents are drinking there is help available. Visit The National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACOA) or phone their free helpline on 0800 358 3456 for more information and support
If this approach is not effective, do not be put off. Dependent drinkers usually need several rounds of support and treatment before they are able to commit to recovery. Addiction is a serious medical condition, and usually needs expert professional treatment in order to reverse the changes in the brain which it causes.
The next step you can take is to contact local drug and alcohol services for help. Addiction is a complex disease, and sufferers will need to seek help from specialist experts who understand the support which is needed.
If you’re not sure whether your drinking is getting out of hand, please click on this link and take part in a short survey to find out: https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/selfassessment
We have listed several specialist local services on our partners page.They all accept self referrals from individuals or families