How to Help an Alcoholic

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Watching someone you love struggle with alcohol addiction is a painful, often traumatic experience. When a person becomes an alcoholic, they begin to compulsively abuse alcohol, now having little to no control over their drinking.

Alcoholism is a disease, and those who suffer from it often have a hard time admitting to themselves that they have become dependent on alcohol.

Figuring out how you can help an alcoholic can be rather difficult. You might not know how to bring up the subject, or what to say after doing so. You might fear that saying something will make things worse. You might even believe that you cannot help at all.

But this is not the case. While, ultimately, it is up to the individual whether or not they seek help for their addiction, it is very much possible for you, their loved one, to be an encourager.

To bring up the issue in a way that will give your loved one a sense that you care, even if they may get defensive. To encourage them to attend rehab and detox, and to continue encouraging them while they are trying to heal.

Helping a loved one who suffers from alcoholism is possible, but is not an easy task. The following will guide you through the best methods of helping your loved one heal from their addiction and become themselves again.

To better empathise with your loved one, learn more about alcoholism

Talking about your friend, family member, or spouse’s addiction is already hard enough. But it can be even harder when you have limited knowledge of what exactly is happening to them.

If you don’t have a good understanding of just what causes alcoholism, or what the effects are, it can be harder to empathise or sympathise at times. On top of that, if you gain a better understanding of alcoholism, you can get a better idea of what steps to take to help your loved one.

Here, we will highlight a few key facts you should know about alcoholism.

1. As you have probably witnessed, AUD has some negative symptoms

As someone’s alcohol consumption shifts from recreational to addiction, they begin to experience some negative effects. They will begin to experience emotional, social, and physical changes. Normally happy relationships with friends, family, or their significant other become strained and riddled with issues.

They will experience mood swings and terrible alcohol withdrawals. Over time, they will start to experience negative physical side effects.

Perhaps one of the most frustrating symptoms that frequently occur with alcoholics is denial. They will often refuse to acknowledge that they do, indeed, suffer from addiction and may become defensive if someone suggests it.

That defensiveness could turn to anger if the situation is not handled properly by both sides.

2. Someone can be more prone to AUD based on their genetics

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5), between 40 to 60% of what puts someone at risk for AUD can be found in their genetics. Now, someone’s genetics may not fully determine whether or not someone can enjoy a drink without the risk of addiction.

But if someone has a significant history of alcoholism in their family, chances are they could develop the disease as well. If your loved one’s parents, grandparents, etc. suffered from alcoholism, then that was a contributing factor to the loved one’s addiction.

3. Alcohol Use Disorder is an involuntary disability

AUD is defined as an “involuntary disability” by the American Society of Addiction Medicine, or ASAM. This is because chances are, when someone starts drinking alcohol, they have no intention of ever becoming addicted or dependent on the substance.

However, as they become physically and mentally dependent on the substance, they lose their choice in the matter. They could control when they drank before, but now, they have little to no control at all over their alcohol consumption.

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Don’t be discouraged. Remember that you can still make a difference for your loved one

AUD is a scary thing, and in some ways, it might seem impossible for someone to help another recover from it. But we would like to emphasise what was stated at the beginning before we continue: it is possible to help your loved one by approaching the subject in a caring manner, and by encouraging them to seek help and while they are seeking help.

Make sure you approach the subject properly

Breaking the silence and bringing up the topic of your loved one’s addiction is intimidating. But it can be an essential part of them seeking help. Considering that alcohol has a negative impact on the parts of the brain that are responsible for logical thinking and good decisions, your loved one might not be aware of how bad things have gotten. They might not even realise they’re addicted at all.

When you decide to sit your friend, family member, or spouse down and have a discussion about their alcohol consumption, you must do your best to emphasise that you are bringing this up because you care. That you are not trying to attack them, but you are bringing this to their attention out of concern for their wellbeing.

Before having the discussion, have a basic idea of what you want to say and how you want to say it. And also prepare yourself for a potentially negative reaction. Even if you approach the subject kindly, your loved one could become defensive or even angry. Remain calm and collected.

During the conversation, urge them to attend rehab. Bring up the most recent incident caused by their addiction and remind them of how this was not the first time. Make them aware that their alcohol consumption is causing problems.

This may make them upset, but it is necessary that they acknowledge that they do, indeed, have a problem that is causing them and their loved one’s pain.

Afterwards, give them some time to process what was said. This is hard for them, too, and they may need a bit to fully process what they need to do.

Continue to support and encourage your loved one during the rehab and recovery process

Healing from an addiction is never easy. Being there for your loved one throughout that process can be extremely helpful, providing them with the reassurance that they are not alone and that they can recover. You could do this in simple ways.

Sending them a letter while they’re in a rehab centre, (this could be better than a phone call as, in the beginning, tensions may be high and a phone call could lead to heated words,) driving them to and from rehab if they are not living in the centre, or even taking them out on activities away from anything alcohol-related can be a big help.

But there is something you need to keep in mind: don’t disregard your own mental health.

While helping your loved one recover, your own mental health may begin to deteriorate if you do not remember to care for yourself. Remember that there is only so much you can do. You cannot be everything for someone.

Don’t push yourself past your limits, because then you will no longer be able to fully help your loved one, and you will experience a lot of negative emotions and thoughts.

A few steps to follow to be supportive

Below, we list three steps to help a loved one achieve their recovery goals:

  1. Remove all alcoholic substances from your/your loved one’s home. Also, remove anything referencing alcohol that could trigger them to drink
  2. You and other loved ones could help keep things running at the home of the loved one in rehab. That way they can focus on getting better and not worry about anything else
  3. We’re going to emphasise this again: remember to look after yourself, too. Your mental health matters. If you push yourself too far, it could start to deteriorate. Your personal life could start to fall apart if you put all your focus on helping your loved one and none on helping yourself
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After the rehabilitation process, your loved one will still need support

Even after your loved one has gone through rehab and is now sober, staying sober will often be difficult. We live in a world where lots of people drink recreationally. There are lots of ads for alcohol. There are bars. Basically, there are a lot of things that could trigger a relapse into alcoholism for your loved one.

While, ultimately, your loved one is going to have to control those urges themselves, support from you and other friends and family will also help.

Being reminded of how far they’ve come in recovery, of how much their life has improved since they gave up alcohol, and having their attention diverted to other things are all very helpful ways to discourage relapse.

Ultimately, it is up to an individual whether or not they seek help. But you can encourage them to do so, and that can make a big change.

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