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Signs Your Loved One is an Alcoholic

For most people, occasional alcohol use is probably not harmful. However, some individuals who consume alcohol regularly can develop an alcohol use disorder (AUD), also known as alcoholism. AUD is a chronic relapsing brain disorder in which an individual cannot stop or control alcohol drinking despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.

In the United States, over 14 million adults have alcoholism (alcohol use disorder).

The signs that someone may have alcoholism include:

  • Drinking more or longer than intended
  • An inability to reduce or stop drinking 
  • Spending an excessive amount of time drinking or getting over the effects of drinking
  • Experiencing cravings or a strong need or urge to drink
  • Drinking that interferes with taking care of the home or family
  • Drinking despite it causing a problem with family or friends
  • Giving up or cutting back on activities that were important or enjoyable to drink
  • Engaging in risky behaviors while drinking 
  • Continuing to drink even despite it causing depression, anxiety, or other mental health problems
  • Experiencing memory lapses or ‘blackouts’ while drinking
  • An increased alcohol tolerance
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms including trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, sweating, or hallucinations

If you identify any one of these signs in your loved one, their drinking may be a cause for concern. The more signs they have, the more urgent the need for change. A licensed healthcare professional can conduct a formal assessment of their symptoms to see if AUD is present and provide medical advice.

How to Deal with an Alcoholic Family Member

Dealing with an alcoholic family member can be challenging because individuals with alcoholism can often become defensive when confronted about their problem drinking.

You should approach your loved one with compassion rather than judgment. Be prepared to speak honestly with your loved one about how their drinking habits affect others in their lives and share the dangerous health risks of substance abuse with them. You should try to understand why they drink alcohol to address the underlying source of the drinking problem.

You should urge them to seek treatment and offer support, including helping them find the right treatment option, making an appointment with a healthcare professional, or driving them to treatment.

If they are resistant to getting help, you can stage an intervention with a professional interventionist’s help.

When dealing with an alcoholic family member, you should be careful to avoid enabling their drinking. Enabling an alcoholic includes any actions that encourage their drinking habits or allows the problematic drinking to continue. 

Examples of enabling include:

  • Making excuses for their behavior
  • Providing money that can be used to purchase substances
  • Bailing them out of legal or financial troubles caused by their substance abuse

Instead of enabling them, set boundaries with them and don’t do anything they can do themselves.

Dealing with an alcoholic family member can be a prolonged and exhausting process. You should practice self-care to support your well-being. You may want to seek therapy or attend a support group for family members of alcoholics such as Al-Anon or Alateen.

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Effects of Alcohol on Relationships 

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is often called a “family disease” because it impacts more people than just the individuals with alcoholism. The emotional side effects of alcohol addiction are felt by spouses, children, and other loved ones. 

Read below to learn how alcoholism impacts relationships with family members and others.

How Alcoholism Affects The Family 

Alcoholism affects both the family as a whole and each individual member. Alcoholism affects every family member’s life, attitude, and way of thinking and can lead to significant relationship dysfunction. Living with someone with an alcohol addiction means being in an unsafe environment filled with disruptions to regular routines, strained relationships, and dishonesty.

Alcoholics are more likely to develop codependency in their relationships, in which an individual’s self-esteem and emotional needs become dependent upon another person. This can negatively affect marriages and relationships with parents, children, and other loved ones.

Alcohol and Divorce

Increased drinking is associated with divorce. In many cases, alcohol abuse has been cited as a cause of divorce. Marriages in which one or more partners have a habit of heavy alcohol consumption are 20% more likely to get divorced.

Alcohol and Romantic Relationships 

Frequent heavy drinking can have harmful outcomes on intimate relationships. This includes decreased intimacy and increased relationship problems. Relationships in which one or more of the partners are involved in excessive drinking are more likely to fall apart.

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) alters an individual’s personality and can have a significant impact on romantic relationships. Individuals with alcohol use disorder become more and more secretive and are more likely to hide things from their significant other, which ruins trust. Trust is essential to a healthy and functioning relationship, and once it is damaged, it can be challenging to repair.

Alcohol and Domestic Violence

Alcoholism causes an increased risk for domestic abuse within the family.  Alcohol use increases both the occurrence and severity of domestic violence. In domestic violence cases in the United States, over half of victims believed that their partners had been drinking before the assault.

Alcohol and Children

Children of alcoholics are more likely to experience cognitive, behavioral, and emotional problems compared to children who grew up in sober homes. Former children of alcoholics are four times more likely to misuse alcohol themselves.

Support Groups for Families of Alcoholics

Family members of alcoholics can benefit from educational programs and mutual-help groups, including Al-Anon and Alateen. These groups provide emotional support and the opportunity to learn from others who have faced similar challenges with their loved ones.

In addition to attending support groups, families of alcoholics may consider individual or family therapy. A trained health professional can help family members understand they are not responsible for their loved one's drinking problems and that they can be helped even if their loved one is refusing treatment.

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Treatment for an Alcoholic Family Member

Most people with AUD benefit from treatment. Unfortunately, less than 10% of alcoholics undergo any form of treatment. Receiving treatment can increase an individual’s chances of successfully overcoming AUD.

An alcoholic family member’s treatment options include inpatient, outpatient, detox, or partial hospitalization treatment programs. The right treatment for an alcoholic depends on their individual needs and the severity of their addiction. Medication-assisted treatment may also be necessary, depending on the severity of addiction.

Resources

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“Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 30 Dec. 2020, https://medlineplus.gov/alcoholusedisorderaud.html

Alcohol Use Disorder. www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohol-use-disorder

Caces, M F et al. “Alcohol consumption and divorce rates in the United States.” Journal of studies on alcohol vol. 60,5 (1999): 647-52. doi:10.15288/jsa.1999.60.647 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4002864

Cranford, James A. “DSM-IV alcohol dependence and marital dissolution: evidence from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions.” Journal of studies on alcohol and drugs vol. 75,3 (2014): 520-9. doi:10.15288/jsad.2014.75.520 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4002864/

“Intimate Partner Violence and Alcohol.” WHO Facts on Alcohol Violence, World Health Organization,www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/violence/world_report/factsheets/fs_intimate.pdf

Salvatore, Jessica E et al. “Romantic relationship status and alcohol use and problems across the first year of college.” Journal of studies on alcohol and drugs vol. 75,4 (2014): 580-9. doi:10.15288/jsad.2014.75.580 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4108599/ 

Weaver, Kathleen. “Alcohol and Romantic Relationships: A Good or Bad Mix?” Buffalo.edu, University at Buffalo, 7 Dec. 2010,www.buffalo.edu/news/releases/2010/12/12072.html#:~:text=%22For%20instance%2C%20it%20turns%20out,do%20not%20drink%20at%20all.%22

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