How to Deal With an Alcoholic – If you love someone dependent on alcohol, you are likely well-acquainted with mood swings and unpredictable behavior. You may have tried everything you can think of to help them stop drinking—including emptying their stash of alcohol or threatening to leave if they don’t do something about the problem. But nothing has worked, at least not for any length of time.
So what options do you have? How do you stay in this relationship, despite feeling helpless, emotionally drained, and frustrated?
First off, remember that it’s not your fault—in fact, it’s not even theirs. No one is to blame for addiction. It’s the result of many factors that include genetics, individuals circumstances, and emotional well-being. If they are ever to get any better, they’ll probably require professional help.
What Is Alcohol Use Disorder?
According to the National Institute on Alcohol and Alcoholism (NIAAA), alcohol use disorder (AUD) is “a chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a negative emotional state when not using.” Although alcohol may not lead to significant harm when consumed in moderation, many people who suffer from with AUD routinely drink much more than the recommended limit of 7 standard drinks per week for a woman or 14 drinks per week for a man.
High-functioning alcoholics may consume alcohol in secret and do their best to conceal the severity of their disorder from co-workers and acquaintances. But it’s improbable that a person can hide it from close family and close friends, especially those who reside within the same household. Because only about 1 in 10 alcohol-dependent people seeks treatment for their disorder, many families are forced to suffer along with their loved one.
During their lifetime, an alcoholic may experience a myriad of health conditions ranging from digestive problems to hypertension and stroke. People who suffer from an AUD often have strong cravings when they aren’t consuming alcohol, and find it very difficult to stop after they’ve started. Over time, they will eventually develop a tolerance to alcohol, which requires them to drink even more to continue experiencing the same results.
In addition to the above, alcoholics may:
- Drink by themselves to hide their addiction
- Experience blackouts (memory lapses)
- Drink at scheduled times and become irritated if they can’t have access to alcohol when they want it
- Hide alcohol in unusual, secretive places, such as a vehicle or in closets
- Drink primarily to get drunk
- Experience relationship, employment, legal, and financial troubles
- Experience a loss of interest in other activities once regarded as important or enjoyable
How AUD Can Ruin a Relationship
While a spouse or loved one may be a kind and thoughtful person when sober, drinking may transform them into a completely different person. Unfortunately, uncharacteristic emotional or physical abuse can be inflicted on those around a person who is intoxicated. In fact, of all the reported alcohol-related occurrences of violence, two-thirds happen among close relationships.
This fact means that partners and children are at an increased risk of witnessing or becoming victims of a violent crime, such as physical abuse or assault. If a loved one is not abusive when intoxicated, he or she may still cause harm in other ways, such as spending way too much free time at bars or frequently missing work or school.
You should become able to identify the signs of a potentially dangerous living situation if it occurs. If you are living in the same residence as an alcoholic, ensure that you and all others in the house are safe, and never permit verbal, emotional, or physical abuse. If this occurs, either you and the rest of the family or the alcoholic needs to leave the situation.
How to Deal With an Alcoholic: Taking Care of Yourself and Other Family Members
Remind yourself that you are not to blame for your loved one’s problems and behavior. Go easy on yourself, as you are probably hurting and have a lot of anger and bitterness as a result of years of frustration and unkept promises.
Once you ensure that you and other family members are safe when your loved one is drinking, consider seeking support in the form of therapy, counseling, or peer group support. If you have children or adolescents, make sure they have a trusted person outside the family to confide in, such as a counselor, therapist, or clergy. And, because the other parent isn’t able to meet their emotional needs, it’s vital that you are willing to listen to them without judgment.
Stop enabling and set boundaries. Enabling is a common occurrence among family members and friends of those who are dependent on drugs or alcohol. Enabling activities include providing the alcoholic with booze, giving them money to purchase it, supporting them by allowing them to live with you if they are abusive, and letting them drink to dangerous levels while they are in your presence.
Unconditional love is a wonderful thing, but if you cater to their appetites by purchasing alcohol or not addressing the issue, you aren’t helping anyone, and certainly not helping them to get better. Instead of enabling, you should resolutely set boundaries and adhere to them. You don’t have to be callous or give ultimatums, but you do have to do what’s right for both you and everyone involved and let the person know that the reason you are going to stop enabling them is born out of love, not for punishment.
Finally, do not allow the person who has an addiction to blame you for their problems and the things they have done. Maybe you need to get away from them to avoid a confrontation, or perhaps you have a trusted friend on the ready to take your loved one to a safe place. It may all be trial and error, but eventually, you will find out what works best. Be vigilant and consistent.
How to Deal With an Alcoholic: Intervention
If you plan on confronting an alcoholic or staging an intervention, choose a time when they are sober and do not threaten them. Focus on your own feelings and concerns and express them in a manner that is compassionate and without judgment.
Most often, alcoholics will initially deny their problem and resist attempts to discuss their condition, and may even try to change the focus of the conversation to you. Be prepared for this to happen and remain calm. Remember that, at that moment, you are planting the seeds of change, and you may have to allow an indefinite amount of time for them to take root.
When planning an intervention, it is best to have a bag packed for the person one and a rehab facility in mind. This way, they may be less likely to back out after agreeing to treatment conditions. It’s also beneficial to have a professional therapist or counselor present who are trained to run interventions, as well as family members and maybe a few close friends who will not overwhelm, antagonize, or judge them.
During the conversation, be concise in your statements and don’t offer them a lecture. Do your homework beforehand and be prepared to field questions about the treatment process. If they are unwilling to go, you can’t force them. Treatment is more effective when the person agrees to go voluntarily. You can always try again in time.
Treatment for Alcoholism
Recovery By The Sea is a specialized addiction treatment center that employs addiction specialists who provide clients with the knowledge and support they need to achieve sobriety and enjoy long-lasting wellness and recovery from alcoholism. Our comprehensive approach includes evidence-based services, such as behavioral therapy, counseling, medication-assisted therapy, and group support.
Addiction is a disease that can last a lifetime, but no one should have to suffer in silence or battle it alone. Contact us today—we can help!