Dealing with an Alcoholic Family Member or Friend

Here are five signs that could signal an alcohol problem:

  • The first sign is any trouble with one’s job or performance as work or school as a result of alcohol consumption, such a repeated lateness; trouble performing due to a hangover, the shakes or reliance on alcohol to help function on the job.
  • The onset of physical problems such as shaking, headaches, blackouts, swelling around the ankles, loss of memory or sudden weight loss.
  • The onset of family problems, increased conflicts with spouse or children, short-temperedness, frequent fights, and an increase in irritability.
  • Legal problems such as a Driving Under the Influence arrest.
  • A change in personality while drinking, such as a person who suddenly becomes much more outgoing when drinking when normally the person is more shy and retiring, or a person who becomes more aggressive, belligerent, or angry while drinking when under normal circumstances that person is quite easy to get along with.

If any one of these five signs is evident in someone you know or live with, it’s an indication of a problem with alcohol.

Alcoholics are a part of a problem system. They resort to alcohol to handle personal difficulties or concerns facing them. Alcohol often is not the problem but rather the result of an individual’s inability to handle his or her other difficulties. These problems may center around work, school, the family, marriage, finances or other areas, or may be a combination of many problems. The alcoholic’s real problem is his/her difficulty at coping with these stressors and her/his use of alcohol to help cope with, or escape from, feelings of helplessness about being able to deal with the stressors.

What you shouldn’t do.

It’s very painful to watch someone you care about struggling with alcoholism. The helplessness we feel in dealing with them often leads us to drastic measures to attempt to change their behaviors. These approaches don’t work, but we find ourselves using them anyway. These include such things as:

  • Saying to them: “If you really love me, you’ll stop drinking.”-or-“I’ll leave you if you don’t stop drinking.”-or-” I’m going to commit you to the state hospital if you don’t stop.”
  • Keeping them away from friends and their bad influences.
  • Locking them in their rooms.
  • Hiding all the alcohol in the house and keeping them from getting money to buy more.
  • Attempting to reason with them. Asking them what their problems are or what they need is not productive because they usually don’t know themselves.

Basically, you should not try to change the problem drinker in you life or the drinking behavior of your parent. The immediate family cannot provide the kind of intervention needed and repeated attempts lead to feelings of personal failure. The alcoholic is addicted and an addict cannot stop on his/her own. Don’t threaten or try to coerce the alcoholic, but rather get help for him/her and also for yourself (to help you cope with being in a relationship with an addict). Dealing with alcoholics is stressful. Often they will say, “I can handle my drinking myself.” Repeated promises get broken when centered around drinking. This is also a sign of alcoholism.

What you CAN do.

Your job is not to provide direct help, but to get in touch with someone who can help the person. You can contact Alcoholic’s Anonymous, a mental health center in your community, a family physician, or a minister who might come to talk to the person about whom you are concerned. Before a person can be helped, she/he needs to acknowledge that he/she has a drinking problem. Often you’d be facing someone who denies, or fails to acknowledge, his/her own drinking behavior.
One thing you could do would be to confront the person about how his or her behavior while drinking affects you. Let the person know what it’s like for you do deal with him or her when he or she is drinking. Do this only when the person is sober and able to hear you and hopefully understand what you’re saying. Don’t try this when the person has been drinking.

Even if you fail to make an impact on the person and they don’t go for help, you can get help for yourself by going to a professional counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist or other mental health professional. Also, you can seek help from Alcoholic’s Anonymous or Al-Anon. Al-Anon is a group for persons living with alcoholics, and can offer help and guidance for dealing with the stresses of the relationship.

You can call the Alcoholic’s Anonymous chapter(s) in your community and ask when a meeting is being held. The person you’re concerned about can go with you if she or he chooses. Regardless of whether they go or not, you can learn to understand what’s happening with the person and find other ways of coping with the situation than feeling like you have to change it by yourself.

Technical Education Center (TEC) Building:212B

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