Alcoholism is a disease that today affects 17 million adults, with 1 in 10 children living with an alcoholic parent. If you have a family member affected by this disease, you may be at a loss to know what to do. It is important to remember that no matter how much you love your family member, alcoholism is a disease that you cannot cure yourself and must be treated by medical professionals. Still, there are many things that you can do to help your loved one.
While the signs of an alcohol problem are varied, some common ones are: physical or psychological dependence on alcohol, inability to control drinking, frequent memory loss, significant mood swings, irritability, making excuses for drinking habits, neglecting responsibilities to drink, drinking in secret and alone, drinking more than intended, spending a lot of time drinking and recovering from drinking, repeatedly participating in unsafe activities after drinking, and having to drink more than previously required in order to feel the effects of alcohol.
If you recognize these signs in the life of a loved one, here are some ways you can support them in their recovery:
- Learn About Alcoholism
One of the best ways you can help your loved one is to educate yourself on alcohol addiction. You will be able to help more effectively when you have a better understanding of what they are going through. There are some excellent online resources where you can get many of your questions answered:
- Talk to Them
Talk to your family member about their alcoholism at an appropriate time. Keep it simple by focusing on a specific incident. Highlight the damage that was done by their actions. Tell the truth as best as you can, and tell your emotional truth. Show how their actions have hurt you or others around them so they can see the results. Don’t threaten them. Recognize that you have a common enemy. Alcoholism is the common enemy that affects not only the addict but everyone close to them.
- Have Appropriate Boundaries
It can be easy to find yourself taking on the addict in your life as your personal responsibility. However, in the long run, this will not work and it is much better to establish personal boundaries. You may feel like blaming yourself at times for the problem, but this is not helpful or accurate. An alcoholic will drink when they want to, and it is never your fault or responsibility. Don’t blame yourself, and don’t take it personally when they drink, even if they blame you. An addict’s brain chemistry has changed to the point where they are not always in control or aware of their behavior. This is not something you can control or cure, alcoholism is a health problem that is best left in the hands of medical professionals.
- Allow Natural Consequences
One of the most difficult things to do is to allow natural consequences to come to someone you love who is participating in unhealthy behaviors. It is common for people with a loved one who is an addict to become an enabler. However, many addicts will not seek help until the people around them allow the natural consequences of their behavior to happen. It is in the best interest of your loved one that you step back from any enabling behavior on your part. Don’t cover for them. Don’t protect them from natural consequences. Don’t hide their alcoholism like a “family secret.” Tell others about what’s going on, and don’t allow embarrassment to keep you from opening up. When you allow the negative experiences that come with being an alcoholic to affect your loved one, they will be much more likely to seek help.
- Give Support
Finally, offer your loved one your support. With boundaries in place, your love and support can make all the difference in their recovery process. Offer to help them find alcohol abuse treatment. Assist them in researching the best place for them, whether it’s inpatient or outpatient treatment they require. Help them stay accountable, and be there to give encouragement and a positive word when needed.