As many people will attest, living with an alcoholic is no easy feat. People who live with alcoholics or those with substance abuse problems get accustomed to specific behaviors.
Friends and family members of alcoholics have likely tried everything in the book to get the person they love to stop drinking, and this often involves:
- Throwing out a loved ones’ collection of drinks
- Threatening to leave them if they continue drinking
- Talking to them about their problems with substance use
It can be incredibly upsetting and frustrating for the friends, and family members of alcoholics since nothing they do to stop their loved ones from indulging in excessive alcohol consumption seems to work.
When someone you love is hellbent on partaking in alcohol abuse, things may seem impossible at times. Still, friends and family members of alcoholics must remind themselves that their loved ones’ drinking is not their fault.
Why people use alcohol
There are many reasons why people use alcohol (and drugs, for that matter).
Many individuals often have encountered adverse life experiences that have contributed to their alcohol abuse, such as:
- Physical, emotional and sexual abuse
- Growing up with alcoholic parents
- Socio-economic issues like low income and poverty
Other factors may include genetic makeup, an individual’s overall mental health and their environment.
What is an alcohol use disorder?
Having a problem with alcohol is not compatible with enjoying the odd glass of wine after a long day or lapping up a cold beer in the sunshine.
Alcoholism (also referred to as alcohol use disorder or AUD) is a long-term pervasive brain disease, which gets identified as:
- A lack of self-discipline or control over alcohol-consumption
- Obsessive alcohol consumption
- An unfriendly emotional demeanor when not consuming alcohol
Alcohol, when consumed in moderation, is usually a harmless substance.
However, for people with AUD – problems frequently arise when the recommended weekly amount gets exceeded.
Research suggests that the weekly alcohol limit is seven drinks per week for women and fourteen drinks for men.
Functional alcoholics often drink while their partner, family members or friends can only helplessly sit back and watch. However, many people use alcohol secretly, even from the people who live in the same household.
Unfortunately, only about 1 in 10 addicts with an alcohol use disorder seek treatment for their addiction, all of which leaves the friends and family members of alcohol substance abusers grief-stricken and profoundly saddened over their loved one’s actions.
National Institute on Drug Abuse
Data from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states that alcohol use disorders impact 17 million Americans living with alcoholism. This figure recently got updated to 30 million.
Long-term health effects
Alcoholics frequently suffer from poor physical and mental health throughout a lifespan.
Some of the medical health conditions associated with alcoholism include:
- Digestive problems
Some of the mental health implications of alcohol use disorders include:
- Depression and anxiety
- Withdrawal symptoms when in recovery or when attempting to get sober from alcohol
- Increased stress levels and an inability to cope
- The potential to relapse
- Disturbed sleep patterns and memory function
- The presence of co-occurring substance use disorders
Research illustrates that alcohol use disorders are responsible for up to a third of preventable deaths in the U.S. It has also been estimated that around 37000 people died from -alcohol-related diseases (such as liver disease) in 2015.
People living with an alcoholic may find it helpful to learn some of the signs to watch out for, particularly if they suspect that a partner, friend or family member may have an alcohol use disorder.
Alcohol abuse sufferers frequently build up a tolerance for alcohol over time – this often results in an alcoholic consuming more significant amounts of alcohol to get the ”high” they crave.
Alcoholics may start drinking beverages with increased alcohol volume, mix their drinks or drink more.
Other signs that someone you love may have an alcohol substance use disorder include:
- Drinking alone to avoid lectures or to cover up their alcohol dependency
- Hiding alcohol in specific locations like the car, shed or under furniture
- Drinking to get wasted
- Experiencing relationship, legal or work issues
- Drinking at a set time and getting extremely irritable when not being able to drink
- Experiencing blackouts
Alcohol addiction causes
As mentioned earlier, there are many reasons why people may abuse drugs or alcohol. However, other factors that may cause someone to engage in substance abuse behaviors, particularly to alcohol, include:
- Mental health diseases
- A family history of alcoholism
- Taking part in drinking sprees
- Drinking alcohol at an early age
- Drinking alcohol with drugs (like prescription medicine) to get a more profound high
- Using alcohol to deal with problems in the placement of healthier coping skills
How to manage your mental health when living with an alcoholic
There are many side effects associated with living with an alcoholic. And all this depends on the addict, their behavior and their actions while under the influence.
Many alcoholics are violent drunks, while others spend all their time at the pub drinking away the families’ money.
Studies show that domestic violence and alcoholism are strongly correlated, resulting in the assault and battery of non-alcoholic family members.
When sober, most alcoholics have a friendly, calm demeanor.
Still, the process works in reverse when drinking – inebriated people with an alcohol use disorder often turn into an entirely different person.
Mental health management
For people living with an alcoholic – there are a variety of valuable ways that they can manage their mental, physical and emotional well being, some of which include:
- Taking care of yourself and your family: It doesn’t take long before people learn that their loved ones’ issues with drinking are not their fault – partners and family members must do all they can to take care of themselves first. An essential aspect of all this is to ensure the safety of themselves and vulnerable family members.
- Having boundaries: Again, this comes down to a person not assuming responsibility for their loved ones’ addiction to alcohol. An alcoholic is responsible for their actions; it has nothing to do with anyone else. People must assert clear boundaries such as leaving the house before a fight, not tolerating abusive behaviors and having a safe place to go when things become dangerous.
- Not engaging in enabling behaviors: Keeping your partner happy is not synonymous with encouraging their drinking habits. Buying them alcohol and assuming this as an act of love allows the very behaviors you are trying to prevent. People must understand what enabling behaviors are and do all they can to prevent them from taking place.
- Learning when to leave a dangerous situation: One of the first things that someone living with an alcoholic must do is learn how to assess a risky situation. Verbal, physical or emotional abuse should not get tolerated in any form – and people must leave the environment when an alcoholic becomes violent or aggressive.
- Having a healthy support group: It is important for people in alcoholic relationships to develop strong support groups. All this may involve friends, peers and even a mental health professional like a counselor or therapist. Taking a few steps back to focus on yourself and talk about your feelings can be incredibly cathartic for those dealing with loved ones’ who have substance use disorders.
If you or someone you love has an alcohol addiction (or any other substance abuse issue), then it’s time to get in touch with an addiction specialist who can help.
It is important to acknowledge, accept and address that family members are affected by addiction. Therefore, part of the healing process at Camino Recovery is an inclusive family week at our centre in Andalucia.
Family members are actively encouraged to attend, and the week allows all to confront, address and heal together.
For more information, see our family workshops.