Living with an alcoholic can be a stressful and traumatic experience. When you live with an alcoholic you can feel trapped, misunderstood, and may experience various levels of emotional distress. Oftentimes, the alcoholic family member is in denial that they have a problem and believes that they are being unfairly accused.
While alcohol is often provided in social settings and has even been linked to some health benefits, overindulging or using it as a coping mechanism for stress can become a strong addiction that impacts someone’s life negatively.1 As a family member, you may feel overwhelmed and unsure of where to turn. However, there are some options available, including doing an intervention, talking to a therapist, or joining a support group like Al-Anon.
How to Tell If Your Loved One Is an Alcoholic
Coming to the realization that your loved one has alcoholism can be a process in itself. You may feel that they are doing the best they can and that they truly can stop whenever they feel like it. However, there are some signs that can indicate that their relationship with alcohol has become unhealthy.
Situations that may be a sign of alcoholism include:2
- Using alcohol in situations that can become dangerous. This can include driving, taking care of children, operating heavy machinery, or providing assistance as an essential worker.
- Having a high tolerance for alcohol. Constantly having to drink more in order to get the same buzz or effect can indicate that one’s tolerance has risen.
- Being unable to cut down despite a desire to do so. Your family member may make promises to decrease their alcohol use or ask you to hold them accountable. However, this can lead to them becoming more covert or taking extraordinary measures in order to conceal how much alcohol they are consuming.
- Continuing alcohol use even after it interferes with activities of daily living, relationships, and career goals. Even after experiencing consequences or disciplinary action, your family member may continue to consume alcohol and not take any action to treat the disease.
How Living With an Alcoholic Can Impact Your Mental Health
While alcoholism can have a devastating impact on the individual with the addiction, its impact is also felt by family and community members. Treatment centers do not always include family members, which may leave them feeling that there is little support as they are also experiencing stress related to their loved one’s addiction.3
Jonathan Sprecher, RN, Principal of RS Healthcare and Director of Nursing at the Desert Hope Treatment Center says, “It can become exhausting worrying about another person and finding yourself in a place where you continually feel that you must pay attention to their behavior in order to be sure your loved one will be alright.”11
Living with an alcoholic can lead to an increase in the likelihood of experiencing caregiver burnout. You may feel that it’s not fair that you have to care for another adult and be inconvenienced because of the choices they have made. You may feel that you need to keep everything together in order for your family member to continue to be seen in a positive light by others.
Alcoholism can be progressive in nature, and while your family member may still be able to function, their behaviors and actions may become erratic, or they may become increasingly impulsive.4 As a result, you may find yourself having a take a more active role in their life or provide more hands-on support. Caregiver burnout can have a direct impact on both your physical and mental health. Caregivers can report having a lower quality of life satisfaction and feel resentment towards the family member they are assisting.5
5 Ways to Cope While Living With an Alcoholic
If you are living with an alcoholic, here are five ways to cope:
1. Recognize That There Is an Issue
When alcoholism is present, it is common that your family member may be in denial that their use has become a problem. They may believe that you are overreacting or that you are just picking on them.6 Sprecher notes, “I suggest you explore information regarding codependent behavior and how to live with a person who is relying on you for support of their behavior.”
2. Be Consistent in Compassion
Let your family member know that you are concerned about them without blaming them or attempting to guilt-trip them.7
3. Engage in Self-Care & Pay Attention to Your Mental Health
Remember that taking care of yourself does not mean that you love your family member less. Sometimes loving detachment is beneficial as you avoid taking on your family member’s alcohol-related problems as your own. Remember that strengthening your mental clarity will help you to engage with your family member thoughtfully and with love.8
4. Offer Solutions Without Strings
Understand that there isn’t a “one size fits all” approach on how to help an alcoholic or treatment and recovery, but it can be good to familiarize yourself with some of the available options in your community. While it may not be helpful to issue an ultimatum, sharing your concern and willingness to help your family member find the right treatment for them can help them feel supported.9
5. Reach Out for Support
There are treatment centers and residential recovery centers that offer services and programs for loved ones and family members. Going to a support group or finding a therapist can be beneficial in equipping you with some healthy ways to cope with stress and provide a space where you can process your emotions.
Sprecher mentions, “It is important to develop a support system of like-minded people in order to not be pulled into a system of facilitating the destructive behavior. One good source is AL-anon, which is a complementary organization to Alcoholics Anonymous. Members meet in a group setting and help one another with the struggle of living with an addictive personality. Finding others in the same situation can be supporting and give you positive direction.”
When to Get Professional Help for an Alcoholic
The process of getting professional treatment for your loved one can be a challenging one. Treatment can vary and depends on the severity of the addiction. Your family member may need an inpatient hospitalization, medically monitored detox, outpatient therapy, residential recovery, or prescription medication in order to help them change their relationship with alcohol.
Oftentimes, the first step is visiting a primary care doctor who can complete an evaluation and make a treatment recommendation based on the likelihood of your family member experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms.10
Sprecher emphasizes the fact that someone must decide for themselves to get help: “Facilitating someone to get help for alcoholism is the hardest task of all. One cannot truly be helped until that person decides that they need the help. However, there are people who come into treatment at the insistence of others. They can still be helped if they decide that they truly need to change their lives but coming to the conclusion that they need help is paramount. Some of the early tasks in treatment are orientated to helping them come to that conclusion before their life collapses around them.”
Final Thoughts on Living With an Alcoholic
It’s important to keep in mind that sheer willpower may not be enough for an individual to stop drinking alcohol. In addition to supportive family and friends, they may require medical intervention, psychotherapy, and other resources in order to obtain sobriety and build a relapse prevention strategy.
Alcoholism is a disease, and the first step requires your family member to be willing to get treatment and be willing to face some of the stresses and triggers that could be contributing to their unhealthy relationship with alcohol.2 If you’re feeling overwhelmed, talking to a therapist, joining a support group like Al Anon, or reaching out to a trusted friend or family member can make a big difference in how you feel and how you manage stress.
Infographics for Living with an Alcoholic