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How to Deal With an Alcoholic

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What is Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)?

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a disease that affects 14.5 million Americans.1 It is a disorder in which someone drinks excessively or is unable to control their drinking, despite negative consequences.

With so many people affected, chances are you might know someone who currently struggles with AUD. 

Common symptoms of AUD include:

  • Inability to stop drinking, even when they want to quit 
  • Drinking more than expected
  • Going through periods of binge drinking
  • Legal issues due to drinking
  • Health problems caused by drinking, such as liver disease
  • Loss of job or problems with school due to drinking
  • Blackouts when drinking
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Causes of AUD

There are various causes of AUD, including:

  • Genetic predisposition (having a parent with AUD increases risk 50 to 65%)
  • Mental health conditions (45% of AUD also have a psychiatric diagnosis or dual diagnosis)
  • Environmental factors, such as other family members who drink
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Comorbid substance abuse

Note: It’s never someone’s “fault” for having AUD. Although AUD has a variety of causes, studies show that genes play an important role in the development and risk of the disorder.

However, you are responsible for what you do about having AUD.

How Alcohol Abuse Affects Relationships

Alcoholism affects relationships between family members, friends, colleagues, and spouses.

Helping a loved one stop drinking is difficult, especially if you have little understanding of AUD. 

You might find yourself struggling with your own mental health, engaging in fights with your loved one, or losing money.

A study published in the Society for the Study of Addiction (SSA) found that drinking affects family members physically and mentally.4 The study found that family members of someone with AUD had higher rates of:

  • Substance use disorder (SUD)
  • Depression
  • Trauma

Knowing about AUD’s risk factors is an essential step in helping someone through their alcohol addiction. 

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7 Tips for Dealing with an Alcoholic

If your loved one is struggling with alcoholism, there are several ways to help. Below are a few ways to help them through their journey toward sobriety:

1. Meet Them Where they Are

To meet someone where they are means to support them in whatever stage of recovery they are in. This allows that person to trust you, and it shows empathy. 

Building trust and showing unwavering support is an important part of successful treatment. It allows your loved one to attend alcohol addiction treatment on their own terms. 

By showing support, your loved one will be more willing to talk to you about their addiction struggles and how you can better support them. It is very important to support the person, but not to support their drinking/using or to protect them from the consequences.

2. Set Boundaries

Not setting boundaries or avoiding openly expressing your emotions can quickly lead to codependency. 

Studies have shown that women with alcoholic husbands are more likely to be codependent.5 This is especially true if they have other mental health issues such as neuroticism.

Set boundaries to prevent a codependent relationship from developing. Do not loan them money, which they might use to pay for alcohol. Don't allow them to care for children alone, as an alcoholic partner might put them at risk. 

You can still show support by taking care of yourself, too. Setting boundaries keeps both parties safe, especially if you live with an alcoholic.

3. Never Force Them Into Recovery

There is no evidence that forcing your loved one into alcohol treatment is effective. 6 Doing so can reduce treatment effectiveness.

Addiction treatment is incredibly effective, but only when someone wants to recover for themselves, not for others. Forcing someone into recovery can build resentment and reduce the trust in your relationship.

4. Understand the Risk of Relapse

Understand that AUD is a chronic disease, even if your loved one has already sought treatment for alcohol addiction.7 Recovery involves multiple steps, including essential follow-up treatment programs that help maintain sobriety. 

Because AUD is a chronic disease, it also means the person runs the risk of relapsing, even in sobriety. This is normal.

5. Help Them Through Recovery

Someone with a high amount of alcohol use is at greater risk of suffering the effects of withdrawal symptoms. These are painful symptoms that can also be deadly. Withdrawal symptoms must be treated by a medical professional and should be dealt with during medical detox.

Afterward, your loved one might have to undergo inpatient treatment or other treatment programs. It’s important to show support in every step of treatment.

6. Consider Family Therapy Sessions 

Family therapy is an excellent way to clear the air, make your feelings known, and receive professional advice that can help you and your partner improve your family life. 

Whether your partner is in recovery, is now sober, or you notice signs of AUD developing, a family therapist can be a great resource to help you mend your relationship. Therapy sessions also allow you and your partner to grow closer together and reach a common understanding.

7. Steer Clear of Being Their Therapist

It’s always best to seek the help of a professional counselor to treat mental health issues related to alcohol abuse. 

A mental health professional is the best resource for your spouse. You should never take a professional’s place or think you can offer advice better than they can. Therapists are trained in treating specific mental disorders and providing evidence-based treatment.

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How to Talk to an Alcoholic About Rehab

It can be frustrating and even scary to watch your loved one continue drinking. This can ruin their health, cause stress, and put lives at risk.

Although it’s important to get them the help they need, it’s never a good idea to verbally abuse someone or force them into treatment.

Instead, consider hiring the help of a professional to provide therapeutic intervention. They might recommend additional treatment options based on your loved one’s needs.

Treatment Options for AUD

In addition, you should let your partner know that various treatment facilities offer help for different stages of recovery. These include:

  1. Medical detoxification: This is the stage of treatment that is vital for alcohol abuse recovery. During this stage of treatment, a medical detox facility helps stabilize your loved one and manage their withdrawal symptoms.
  2. Inpatient treatment: This stage of treatment is good for those first beginning alcohol abuse treatment. Inpatient facilities offer a higher level of care and reduce the risk of relapse by providing a 24/7 structured environment. People attend support group sessions and therapy sessions daily.
  3. Intensive outpatient treatment (IOP): This stage of treatment is just as effective as inpatient treatment. It helps transition your loved one from inpatient to outpatient treatment.8
  4. Outpatient treatment: Outpatient treatment meetings are flexible, offer support groups or therapy, and provide mental health treatment. Outpatient treatment is the final stage of AUD treatment.
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Updated on May 26, 2022
8 sources cited
  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Understanding alcohol use disorder. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. 
  2. Gilbertson, R., Prather, R., & Nixon, S. J. . The role of selected factors in the development and consequences of alcohol dependence. Alcohol research & health : the journal of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. 
  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Genetics of Alcohol Use Disorder. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
  4. Ray, G. T., Mertens, J. R., & Weisner, C. (Feb. 2009). Family members of people with alcohol or drug dependence: Health problems and medical cost compared to family members of people with diabetes and asthma. Addiction (Abingdon, England). 
  5. Panaghi, L., Ahmadabadi, Z., Khosravi, N., Sadeghi, M. S., & Madanipour, A. (2016, April). Living with addicted men and codependency: The moderating effect of personality traits. Addiction & health.
  6. Werb, D., Kamarulzaman, A., Meacham, M. C., Rafful, C., Fischer, B., Strathdee, S. A., & Wood, E. (18 Dec. 2015). The effectiveness of compulsory drug treatment: A systematic review. International Journal of Drug Policy.
  7. McKay, J. R., & Hiller-Sturmhofel, S. . Treating alcoholism as a chronic disease: Approaches to long-term continuing care. Alcohol research & health : the journal of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
  8. McCarty, D., Braude, L., Lyman, D. R., Dougherty, R. H., Daniels, A. S., Ghose, S. S., & Delphin-Rittmon, M. E. (1 Jun. 2014). Substance Abuse Intensive Outpatient Programs: Assessing the evidence. Psychiatric services (Washington, D.C.).

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