How you can help a family member overcome their alcoholism

Alcoholism is a term used to describe someone who has both a physical and psychological dependence on alcohol. They are likely to have problems controlling their alcohol intake and will choose to keep drinking even though it causes problems. This type of disorder can range from mild to severe, eventually developing into serious problems that can damage their work life, social life, relationships and health.

It can be difficult to come to terms with the fact that a family member may have an alcohol addiction and you’re probably wondering what you can do to alleviate the situation, even when that person doesn’t want your help.

 Learn about alcohol abuse

Before you decide that someone has a problem with alcohol you need to be able to recognize the difference between drinking too much from time to time and having a real dependence on alcohol. People who rely on alcohol tend not to drink in moderation and may engage in behaviors including:

  • Drinking alone
  • Drinking more to feel the effects of alcohol
  • Not eating properly
  • Becoming violent or angry when asked about their drinking habits
  • Continuing to drink even when problems develop

They might also be affected by physical symptoms such as:

  • Cravings for alcohol
  • Alcohol withdrawal symptoms when not drinking
  • Lapses in memory after drinking
  • Involuntary shaking after drinking

You can find out more about the symptoms of alcohol disorder here.

 Know what you’re going to say

It’s important to let your family member know that you care which is why you should think carefully and even practice what you are going to say. Think about the positive, supportive statements you could say that will make them aware of how much you are concerned about their health. You should be prepared for every response, but no matter what reaction you get you should remain calm and respectful. A subject as sensitive as this should be discussed in a quiet, private place without anything that might distract that person and it’s very important that they are sober.

 Be honest and compassionate

Being open and honest about the situation will make your loved one aware that they have a problem and require help. Avoid accusing tones and instead highlight a specific concern. For example, it may be that their alcohol problem might cause violent behaviour. Tell them that you’re worried they are drinking too much and tell them that you want to be supportive but bear in mind that they may deny that they have a problem and act negatively toward your offer to help. Sometimes it’s best to give them some time and space to think about things for themselves.

 Understand when to intervene

You can’t force someone to get treatment for their alcohol dependency, but you can listen, talk and continue to offer your support. They may vow to get help on their own, but if they fail to commit to this, it might be time to intervene. Seek the help of other family members or friends and get together to confront the person to urge them to seek professional treatment such as rehabilitation services.

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