When a person struggles with alcoholism, it can be difficult to identify. Alcohol is often the centerpiece of social gatherings and overconsumption has become normalized to the point that many people do not view it as problematic. Knowing the difference between someone who occasionally consumes too much and someone who has a drinking problem can be difficult, but there are some signs and symptoms that may indicate problematic behaviors are developing.
Is it Alcoholism?
Someone who struggles with alcohol abuse may seem productive and may not always display the signs you would expect. In some cases, those who struggle with alcoholism are defined as “high-functioning alcoholics” because they are able to maintain employment, relationships, and responsibilities despite having a dependency on alcohol. Those who achieve success or are in positions of power may have their alcoholism overlooked by others and it is not uncommon to find those who struggle may be in denial about it. Even if a person is able to maintain this façade for a period of time, alcohol use eventually catches up and can have a significant impact on their physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.
If you suspect your loved one is struggling with alcoholism, they may not be forthcoming about there being an issue. If you observe some of the following signs and symptoms, it may indicate a need for professional help:
- Being unable to keep up with responsibilities at home or work
- Negative changes or loss of relationships due to drinking
- Needing to drink in order to feel relaxed
- Needing to consume larger amounts of alcohols in order to feel its effects
- Denying drinking or hide it from others
- Developing legal problems due to drinking
- Having friends or loved ones lie or make excuses on their behalf for drinking
Even if they seem to have things under control, alcohol abuse can put a person at risk for a number of health issues and may threaten the safety of those around them. They may be more likely to engage in activities such as driving under the influence or having unprotected sexual encounters. In addition, liver problems, heart problems, cancer, brain damage, and memory issues are just a handful of the many negative health consequences associated with alcohol abuse.
How to Help Your Loved One with a Drinking Problem
Starting a conversation about alcohol abuse can be difficult, especially if you are not sure how they will react. While you cannot force your loved one to change, starting the conversation and presenting your concerns to them can help motivate them to address it. You may not be sure what to say initially, but there are ways you can prepare yourself to discuss the topic in the most productive way possible.
Some ways to prepare for the conversation may include:
- Do your research: While you may not know definitively that your loved one has a problem with alcohol, understanding the nature of alcohol addiction as well as the signs and symptoms associated with misuse can help you have an open and honest discussion. Alcohol abuse can develop for a variety of reasons and understanding what can potentially drive it may make it easier to talk about.
- Prepare what you want to say: Before approaching your loved one, it is a good idea to have an idea of what you want to say and how you want to convey your message. Talking about alcoholism can stir up a negative reaction and can get emotional quickly. Practice framing your thoughts in a way that is productive and supportive rather than judgmental or accusing. Approaching the topic from a place of concern and care can help keep the conversation on track, but be prepared for anything. Even the most thought-out conversation can be negatively received.
- Time it appropriately: There is nothing worse than attempting to have a difficult conversation with your loved one while they are under the influence. Pick a time of day when they are most likely to be sober and ensure the location is quiet and private. Minimizing interruptions and distractions can keep the conversation on track. If they are upset about something else, like a significant life event, it may not be the best time to discuss an emotionally-charged topic.
- Be supportive: As much as you want to help, you may not be able to force your loved one into treatment. Expressing your concern and enlisting the help of other friends or family members may help sway their decision about accepting help. In some cases, starting the conversation through the use of an intervention can be the most effective approach. This is especially true in situations where circumstances are severe and immediate help is needed.
If your loved one chooses to accept help, treatment for alcoholism is a lifelong journey. Unlike many other illicit substances, alcohol is legal and can be found virtually everywhere. Temptation and risk can easily be a part of everyday life. No matter where they are in their recovery, there is always a risk when it comes to alcohol. Some ways you can help support their sobriety include:
- Offer to attend support meetings with them
- Do not drink alcohol around them
- Offer to help with some tasks, but do not take on all of their responsibilities
- Do not allow codependency to develop
- Be empathetic and open to talking about difficult topics
- Be honest when expressing concerns, but avoid using judgmental language
No matter what happens, it is important to also seek support for yourself. Rather than allowing yourself to carry the burden of feeling responsible for their situation, taking blame, and making excuses on their behalf, you must be willing to come to terms with the situation by taking a step back. Taking care of your own physical, emotional, and mental health needs is just as important. As much as you want to help, accepting that their actions and the consequences they experience are not your fault is imperative.