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What is Alcohol Use Disorder (Alcoholism)?


Alcohol use disorder (AUD), also known as alcoholism, is a mental/physical craving and dependency on alcohol. Alcohol use disorder is not synonymous with binge drinking. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, in 2019 over 14 million people in the U.S. suffer from some form of AUD.

Common Signs of Alcoholism 

Alcoholism causes several noticeable changes. The severity of the signs will vary based on individual factors such as age, weight, gender, and general health. Here are the most common signs of alcoholism:

Behavioral 

  • Requires alcohol to function
  • Unreliable
  • Slurs words
  • Irritabile
  • Depression
  • Poor memory
  • Poor decision making skills

Physical 

  • Weight gain 
  • Tiredness
  • Sudden appearance of bruises/scrapes
  • Dirty/disheveled appearance 

Alcohol has a noticeably, profound effect on behavior. Once a person develops an addiction problem, they may behave entirely differently than how you know or remember them. This change is because alcohol abuse rewires the brain.

Alcohol abuse and addiction affect both time and money. A family member suffering from addiction may begin to borrow money to sustain their drug habit. Alcoholism often leads to unemployment or short-term jobs.

One of the most significant side effects of long-term alcoholism is poor mental health. Alcohol disrupts a person’s ability to sleep, think, and process emotions. All of this can lead to depression, negative self-worth, and a worsening of the addiction. 

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How to Deal With an Alcoholic Family Member

Dealing with an alcoholic family requires planning. It’s best not to do it alone if you’re unsure how to tackle the subject or are afraid of their reaction. Reach out to other family members and friends and stage an intervention. 

It’s essential not to discuss their addiction while they’re drinking or drunk. It’ll lessen the impact and may aggravate them. Try to schedule the conversation at a time you know the family member will be home. Plan out what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it. Try to make them understand how their drinking is affecting you and their life in general. 

Alcoholics may try to deflect blame. Which may sound like, “You do this, and that’s why I drink.” or “I drink because of…” etc. Remember that their alcoholism is not your fault. Once alcoholism develops, it’s not entirely their fault either.

How to Deal With an Alcoholic Spouse 

Having an alcoholic spouse can place severe strain on relationships. If your spouse is abusive when drinking, then seek help immediately. Your health is just as important as theirs. Keep yourself safe by keeping away from them. Urge them to seek professional help when possible but don’t put yourself at risk to do so. 

Plan and stage an intervention with family and friends for your spouse if possible. Discuss talking points before the intervention to ensure specific issues aren’t repeated. It’s also good to establish a talking order.

If you have young children, keep them out of the intervention. An intervention requires uncensored and open adult discussion. Remember that an intervention is not a screaming match. Explain the negative consequences of your spouse’s drinking in calm, genuine, and clear terms. Lastly, keep the focus of the intervention solely on the alcohol abuse

How Alcohol Abuse Affects Friends and Family

Alcohol addiction fractures family relationships and ruins friendships. Alcoholics prioritize alcohol over almost everything else. Alcoholics with children often miss out on key events such as graduations, sports games, etc., because of their drinking. 

However, someone has to pick up the slack. Sometimes grandparents, friends, or concerned adults may step in. But there are many households where the child assumes the parental role. I.E., paying bills, cleaning, planning, etc. This is called a parentified child.

Parentification of a child disrupts normal childhood behavior and development and has life-long side effects. Children of alcoholics are also more likely to develop an addiction. This is referred to as multi-generational addiction. Even without parentifying a child, children raised by alcoholics are prone to behavioral issues.

Friendships - An alcoholic's inability to process emotion, provide support for others, and partake in friendly outings without being drunk drives a wedge between healthy friendships. Close friends of alcoholics are often neglected. The loss of stable adult friendships can lead to further mental health issues. Social support is crucial to the recovery of a person with substance abuse issues. 

Living with an alcoholic or someone in the early stages of recovery is emotionally taxing. It can help to have someone to talk to that understands what it's like. Al-Anon/Alateen is an organization founded to provide support groups for people affected by someone's alcoholism.

How to Help Your Alcoholic Loved One Seek Treatment

The best way to help an alcoholic stop drinking is to get them into a treatment program. Treatment programs provide professional help. Alcoholics Anonymous, family therapy, and addiction treatment facilities are treatment programs centered around treating substance use disorder and alcohol abuse.  

Getting your loved one into a treatment center requires patience. Stage an intervention and explain to them their codependent relationship with alcohol. Let them know that you care about their well-being and believe they need treatment to overcome their substance use. 

Keep the focus on them and their addiction. Reach out to your local clinics before the intervention to find available treatment options. Insurance may cover some treatment under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). During the intervention, present the treatment options you've found and list the pros and cons for each one. 

You may feel uncertain or awkward, bringing up treatment options. Especially if the alcoholic is older, a parent, or your spouse. Just remember that they need help. You may be putting them on the first step in the right direction. 

Once they agree to treatment options, get them into one as soon as possible. 

The Best Alcohol Addiction Treatment Options

Treatment options vary based on the severity of the addiction and have 2 general types. 

Inpatient Inpatient treatment options help detox an alcoholic. Inpatient also helps counteract alcohol withdrawal symptoms. This treatment option includes 24/7 observation and assistance. 

Outpatient — Outpatient options offer treatment that doesn’t disrupt the day-to-day life of an alcoholic. Outpatient options may include drug tests to verify sobriety. Outpatient treatment options include family therapy. Therapy can help uncover the cause for substance use or drug addiction and identify triggers. Therapy also provides healthy coping mechanisms to help deal with challenges.

Every form of alcohol use disorder treatment aims to better the overall behavioral health and habits of an alcoholic. The change necessary to overcome addiction is a mental shift in thinking. A person with alcohol use disorder must want to stop drinking for any method to be effective. That starts with them admitting they have a drinking problem. 

Speak with your loved one if their addiction is affecting their life or the lives around them. Getting them help as soon as possible is the best counter for substance abuse disorder. Reach out to your local alcohol and addiction helpline for more information.

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Resources

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Groh, David R, et al. “Friends, Family, and Alcohol Abuse: an Examination of General and Alcohol-Specific Social Support.” The American Journal on Addictions, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2007, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2977912/

Goldberg, Lisa R, and Thomas J Gould. “Multigenerational and Transgenerational Effects of Paternal Exposure to Drugs of Abuse on Behavioral and Neural Function.” The European Journal of Neuroscience, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 2019, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7296771/

Yohn, Nicole L, et al. “Multigenerational and Transgenerational Inheritance of Drug Exposure: The Effects of Alcohol, Opiates, Cocaine, Marijuana, and Nicotine.” Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, July 2015, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4459901/

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