Getting help for a family member with an alcohol problem 

Finding out a family member or loved one has an addiction to alcohol can place a massive strain on everyday life. It can turn families upside down and cause difficulties in marriages and problems in even the closest of relationships. Family members may feel guilty for not noticing the problem before, or turning a blind eye to a loved one’s heavy drinking. That living with a heavy drinker recognising that they have a drink problem is very different to the alcoholic recognising it themselves. Others may be able to see how alcohol is causing problems in someone close’s life before they realise or admit it to themselves or others.

Denial to acceptance

Needing help to give up drinking is not a weakness, accepting help shows great strength of character in trying to take back some control over one’s own life. Sometimes it takes someone close by to prompt the drinker into the realisation that there is a problem, but usually they will know deep down that their drinking has become out of hand.

Realising and admitting that there is an addiction to alcohol is the first step in doing something about it. Until someone is ready and has a genuine wish to give up alcohol, any attempts at trying to get them to stop drinking are not likely to work .Until an alcoholic is ready to try and give up drinking for themselves, not just because they have been “talked into it” or feel like they should, then they are not ready to start on the path to a sober life.
If your loved one does not see for themselves that they have a problem with drinking, do still try and seek help for them. Denial is a big part of alcohol addiction and stands in the way of starting the rehabilitation process.

The first steps

Family members will want to help from letting a loved one’s alcohol addiction from ruining their lives. There are a number of ways you can get help for a family member who is drinking too much. A good start is your GP who will be able to help you with a treatment plan. A doctor will assess the person with a problem in a short appointment (usually lasting around 10 – 15 minutes) and give them advice on how to manage their drinking. This may involve attempting to drink in moderation, or abstaining from alcohol completely. Abstaining is shown to be more effective in the long term, as someone who has had a problem with alcohol may struggle to stop after one or two drinks. They will be encouraged to keep a diary of their drinking to help keep track of how much and how often they are drinking. This diary can help identify patterns in drinking behaviour and determine any triggers or influencing factors in why someone drinks to excess.
Treatable, not curable

It is widely believed that alcohol addiction cannot be cured in the traditional sense, but it is manageable and it can be treated.
There are many ways alcohol addiction can be treated, from using medication to aid withdrawal from alcohol, as symptoms can range from mild to life threatening. The severity of the addiction and level of alcohol use will play a big part in determining what the best course of treatment is. A period spent in residential rehabilitation, if deemed appropriate, is recognised as one of the best ways of beating alcoholism.

Stopping drinking

A period of abstinence from drink is always recommended when undertaking any recovery program. It gives the body time to adjust to the withdrawal of alcohol from the system, and allows the heavy drinker to start to think more clearly, preparing them for the long road ahead. It is one thing to stop drinking but another battle entirely to stay away from alcohol. Staying sober requires commitment and support.

Depression and Alcohol

Alcoholism may be a symptom of depression or other mental health issues. Alcohol addiction can certainly cause depression, alcohol being a natural depressant. The resulting mood swings and low mood can be difficult to live with when living with an alcoholic. The effects of alcohol abuse go far beyond the drinker themselves. Counselling is also available for family members who have been affected by their loved ones drinking. Couples or family therapy can play a big role in the recovery process. Often relationships that have been affected by alcohol become fragile and often lead to divorce and estrangement.
Counselling and talking spaces

Counselling is vital to an addict in understanding why they drink. It may not be something obvious like a marriage break up or death of a loved one but could stem from underlying

Talking therapies can help air grievances and provide a safe environment in which to talk about how alcohol has affected a relationship. Some may choose to seek other talking spaces to help aid recovery. Many find group programs useful in this where they attend regular meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous. Alcoholic Anonymous works on the principle that other recovering addicts are best placed to help other recovering addicts and provide peer to peer support, with mentoring from someone who is achieving sobriety. 12 step recovery programs are recognised as being an effective way to help combat alcoholism.

Supporting your loved one

Supporting a member of the family who needs help with their drinking may require the rest of the family to change their habits too. Avoiding drinking and triggers that may cause a loved one to reach for the bottle can require some serious lifestyle changes. This can help bring a family affected by alcohol addiction closer together, and create a more positive environment which is more likely to aid the recovery of a loved one.

Help sooner rather than later

Getting help for a family member who has problems with alcohol can start with a simple phone call. Trying to help a family member who has a problem with alcohol addiction is something that should be attempted sooner rather than later, as drinking can be a slippery slope. The longer an addiction has gone on for, the more difficult it is to treat successfully.

Further Help

Alcoholism can have a devastating effect on family life. Getting help for a member of the family who is suffering from alcohol addiction can be a difficult thing to do. Many are worried about the effect such an admission would have on their reputation and the associated stigma with alcoholism.

Seeking help for a family member who has problems with alcohol is a brave step to take, but it is the right thing to do to help a loved one. They may feel ashamed or guilty and find it hard to admit to alcohol being a problem. Denial is a common factor of alcoholism, with the drinker believing they have it under control when it is all too apparent to those close by that they do not.

By helping someone reach out for help you can help stop the terrible toll alcohol is taking on their physical health.  Heavy drinking is responsible with early death, cancer, respiratory diseases, and digestive conditions amongst a whole wealth of associated health problems. It also plays a massive part in mental health issues and affects not just the drinker but the whole family too

There are different types of help available for those with a drinking problem. These include both residential and outpatient and self-help options. Often outpatient treatment does not include initial detox and withdrawal. This stage of recovery may have to have already been completed before outpatient treatment and further rehabilitation can commence.

A family member with a problem with alcohol will need a lot of support and help in order to be able to give up drinking. Support may come in many forms – it could be the rest of the family stopping drinking to help support and remove temptation for the sufferer. It may be a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on but recovery is shown to be much easier with familial support.

The effect of alcohol on families in wide reaching and problematic. The behaviour of a heavy drinker may become unpredictable. Simple everyday routines may become disrupted as the drinker struggles with the demands of everyday life. Households may end up in squalor as the drinker fails to attend to their everyday duties and chores in favour of drinking.  Family member may be forced to take over the drinkers responsibilities as they become unable to cope with their role in the family.
Heavy drinking may cause mood swings and make someone who is a heavy drinker very difficult to live with. They may be secretive and in denial about their drinking, any mention of the problem or the suggestion that they should get help can cause arguments and hostilities. Often the heavy drinker is paranoid about their drinking and will create arguments and a bad atmosphere.

Heavy drinkers often ruin special occasions with their drinking. The availability of alcohol, the “excuse” of being able to drink and their inability to stick to small amounts of alcohol lead to all sorts of problems. Memories of family events are often marred by inappropriate behaviour, which may include arguing or fighting.

This often leads to arguments and families falling out, causing rifts that can last for years. A heavy drinker who has not admitted to their problem may feel persecuted by others talking about their drinking – something which they regard as only their problem when it does in fact all close to them.

Children are particularly susceptible to the effects of a parent drinking. Not only has it been shown that alcoholism can run in families. Children may have no idea what “normal” is if they live with an alcoholic is. They may be forced into a role with too much responsibility. They may have to care for a heavily addicted parent. Children of parents addicted to alcohol are proven to be more likely to suffer from poor self-esteem, have social and relationship issues that may affect them all the way into adult life and beyond. Counselling may be needed for family members who have been affected by a loved one’s drinking.

Residential Rehabilitation may involve a period away from home ranging from weeks to months depending on the severity of the alcohol addiction. This can give the alcoholic valuable time away from the distractions of family life and use all their energies concentrating on getting better. Having no access to alcohol and 24 hour supervision helps break the physical addiction to alcohol. The most severe withdrawal symptoms are in the first 48 hours, but may last up to a week or more. It can be a physically and mentally distressing time for an addict struggling to break free from the addiction that has taken hold of them. Medical supervision will help manage a withdrawal safely and successfully. Withdrawal should not be attempted without medical advice.

Having a trained counsellor or therapist on hand 24/7 can help immeasurably in this period of recovery. A good treatment centre will have caring understand staff with strong experience in the field of alcohol addiction. Sometimes alcohol problems are related to depression and other mental health problems. If this is the case, a dual diagnosis may be given. Specialist care is required for dual diagnosis cases and the symptoms of both may be similar and need different courses of treatment and recovery pathways.

Outpatient treatment can be as effective as residential rehabilitation but may need more will power and determination. Despite receiving care during the day, return to their normal environs in the evening may cause temptation to drink and access to alcohol may prove too much for someone with an addiction to alcohol and trigger a relapse into drinking again.

Self-help groups that involve support from fellow recovering alcoholics have been shown as an effective in helping towards sobriety. 12 step programs address and try and understand the problems that cause excessive drinking and try and right some of the wrongs it has caused.

If you are worried that a family member has a problem then you should seek help right away. The further an alcohol addiction goes can make it harder to treat. Alcohol help is available, seek help before it’s too late.