How Can I Help My Loved One?

It can be hard to approach the topic of alcoholism or addiction with a loved one.  When a loved one is struggling with a relationship, a problem at work, or dealing with a difficult life event, we are able to step in with a sense of empathy; however with addiction and alcoholism there is stigma in regards to talking about it. The stigma relating to this disease is why we need to approach the topic of seeking help with those we see struggling.

How to Help a Family Member

When a family realizes one of their members has a “drinking problem” or “using problem” it could be alcoholism or addiction. Naming the issue is a big step forward in handling the situation. Perhaps a “drinking problem” or “using problem” is something you talk to a person about, you ask them to improve their behavior for their own good. You suggest they cut back, not go out to bars as often. Then you wait to see what happens and hope, but alcoholism and addiction, by definition, are a different matter.

When there is no improvement over time, then family members realize the problem is really alcoholism or addiction, a problem which requires a deeper kind of help.

When a person is an alcoholic or addict, they are out of control of their drinking or using. When they have a glass of alcohol, they have to finish it. When there is a bottle of alcohol, it must be emptied. They prioritize their using over responsibilities and relationships. When a person is an addict or alcoholic and they have already been given chances to stop on their own, it is time to seek services to help save their life.

How can Family Members Help a Person Who is out of Control of Their Drinking/Using?

Stop hiding the problem. If you have been keeping it a secret, stop doing so. Tell other close family members, the family doctor, your family spiritual guide, and others in a good position to provide real help and support. If everyone close to the scene or who can provide real help knows about it, then the problem can be faced.

  • Assemble support. Plan to talk to the alcohol or addicted person with whichever family members they respect the most and who can be the calmest.
  • Don’t try to talk to the person when he or she has been drinking or using or when they are highly stressed. Find a time when they are sober and as untroubled as possible.
  • As a calm, non-accusative team, confront the person with the damage being caused to the person, the family and other areas (job, business, finance, community or career) by the drinking/using. Be specific but as patient and uncritical as you can be. However, do not back down or sympathize.
  • If this is the first time you have confronted the alcoholic or addict on their behavior, then you can consider whether or not to give them a chance to quit drinking on their own. If the drinking has gone on for some years, it is practically certain the body of the alcoholic/ addict will be so addicted to alcohol or chemicals that the person will be unable to quit on their own.
  • If the person has already been given a chance to quit and has failed and perhaps also provided plenty of excuses as to their failure, then this is the time to talk about appropriate services.
  • If the alcoholic/ addict refuses to talk about getting help, the family will have to agree on the next steps to take. They may include refusing to bail the person out of legal, financial, professional or personal problems. If the person has been being housed for free, the family may have to agree to refuse to provide this support if there’s no effort to seek services.
  • If these steps fail, then consider if there is someone else the alcoholic or addict considers an authority. See if that person can help convince the alcoholic/addict to seek help.
  • If all these steps fail, the next step the family should take is to contact an interventionist with experience (please see resources) working with an addicted person. Bring the interventionist in and give them the help they request, to get your loved one to agree to get help.

Warning Signs of Alcoholism/Addiction

Knowing the warning signs of alcoholism/addiction can help you not only recognize if someone needs help, but it might even save their life.  Alcoholism can also be known as alcohol use disorder (AUD). According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism about 17 million people in the U.S. were reported to have had an AUD in the year 2012, which includes 11.2 million men and 5.7 million women.

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) and Its Warning Signs

Although men typically have three to five times higher the risk of developing the disorder than women do, women generally experience more physical damages than men, many suffer from extreme damages to the liver, brain or heart as a result of drinking excessive alcohol.

Some typical signs and symptoms of AUD include the following:

  • Drinking a large amount of alcohol or using a larger amount to get the same effect as others do from a moderate amount.
  • Blacking out or experiencing short-term memory loss.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms (including shaking, nausea, sweating, vomiting) after going without alcohol for a certain amount of time.
  • Skipping out on family activities, social events, hobbies or other similar things to do in order to drink.
  • Choosing to continue drinking or using, even after receiving knowledge of health-related problems, such as pancreatic or heart disease, liver cirrhosis, and more.
  • Denying any dependence on alcohol or chemicals, even if he/she is perpetually consuming it.
  • Showing up late or not showing up at all to work, children’s activities, social gatherings, and family events due to drinking or
  • Driving while intoxicated or operating dangerous or heavy equipment.
  • Experiencing legal issues associated with drinking, such as charges for a DUI, an assault, domestic violence, or being drunk and disorderly.
  • Showing unusual violent behavior, whether intoxicated or not.
  • Frequently displaying signs of being hung over.
  • Drinking/ using at all times of the day, even when alone.
  • Making excuses for extreme drinking behavior/ using behavior or disguising the amount of alcohol or chemicals consumed.
  • Buying liquor, beer or wine regularly, but at different stores or picking up prescriptions at different pharmacy.
  • Worrying or becoming anxious at the fact that there might not be enough alcohol/ chemicals for a night or for the weekend.
  • Exhibiting physical symptoms related to alcohol abuse or chemical abuse, such as upset stomach from gastritis, or redness of the cheeks and nose, and more.
  • Telling others that they can choose to stop at any time, but never actually does so.
  • Telling others that they will only have one beverage and results in many more.
  • Missing important obligations, such as social commitments, work duties, or family responsibilities.
  • Choosing to continue drinking or using, even though alcohol/ chemicals has caused significant psychological or physical ailments.
  • Showing a strong tolerance to alcohol or chemicals, no matter what type it is.
  • Getting upset or bothered by others who express concern over the drinking or using behavior of the individual, even if this person is a loved one, employer, family member or doctor.

Recognizing a Drinking Problem in Teens/Adolescents

Adults aren’t the only ones who can develop AUD. In 2012, approximately 855,000 American adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 were diagnosed with AUD.

Most underage drinkers haven’t yet had the time to develop a severe case of alcoholism at their age, but knowing the symptoms and warning signs to look for in an early alcoholic can allow others to prevent him/her from alcohol dependency later on. It is advised to look for the following signs and symptoms (though there can be many other warning signs) to determine if an adolescent is showing early stages of alcoholism or alcohol abuse:

  • Frequent minor health issues, such as red eyes or a sore stomach.
  • Loss of interest in academics, resulting in poor grades, misconduct while attending classes, or skipping school altogether.
  • Loss of interest in extracurricular activities, hobbies or exercise.
  • Lack of motivation.
  • Poor performance at part-time job.
  • Sudden use of air-freshening scents to mask the smell of alcohol, including perfume, mints/gum, incense.
  • Mood swings or other dramatic change in personality
  • Newly developed paranoia or anxiety.
  • Demands for more privacy.
  • Isolation or secretive behavior.
  • Defiance of orders from parents or authoritative figures.

Recognizing a Drinking Problem in Yourself

For some, it might be hard to recognize they are displaying alcoholic/ addict behaviors. If you believe you might be an alcoholic/ addict and want to review your symptoms, try asking yourself the following questions:

In the past month,

  • Have there been multiple situations where I’ve ended up drinking or using much more or much longer than intended?
  • Have I wanted to cut down or stop drinking more than once? Have I tried to and failed?
  • Have I spent a lot of time drinking/ using or being hungover?
  • Have I experienced an uncontrollable craving to consume alcohol/ using?
  • Have I seen that drinking/using—or being sick from drinking/using—has prevented me from caring for my home or family? Has it cost me a job or a demotion? Have I started performing poorly in school?
  • Have I chosen to drink/use even after knowing that it was causing issues with my family, friends or coworkers?
  • Have I lost interest in participating in activities I once enjoyed due to drinking/using?
  • Have there been multiple occasions where I’ve increased my chances of getting hurt (including driving a motor vehicle, having unprotected sex) or hurting someone else?
  • Have I chosen to consume alcohol/ substance even though I knew it would make me feel depressed, violent or anxious?
  • Have I continued to drink/ using after knowing it has caused a health problem or a serious blackout in the past?
  • Do I need to have much more than once before to get to the same level of intoxication as others?
  • Have I gone to the hospital for an alcohol-related cause or substance use related cause, such as alcohol poisoning or overdose?
  • Have the amount of drinks/substances I usually consume increased significantly?
  • Have I experienced withdrawals—including insomnia, anxiety, tremors, depression, nausea, hallucinations—after the initial buzz wears off or after not drinking for a little while?

As a family or support member it is important to remember the 3 C’s of Addiction:
Cause It – You didn’t cause it
Cure It – You cannot cure it
Control It – You cannot control it

Please see the resource section for ways to gain support when loving an addict or alcoholic.

Information adapted from:

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