No one ever intends to develop an alcohol problem, just like no one ever thinks they would be worrying over an alcoholic spouse. Yet, in the United States, over 14 million men, women, and even children struggle with various forms of alcohol abuse. This means millions of people are living with an alcoholic spouse, family member, or friend and likely struggling with how to handle the situation.

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People who live with an alcoholic worry endlessly about the safety of their family members and themselves.

Broken promises, legal problems, health issues, financial problems, and more follow the development of a drinking problem. Even so, it can be difficult for a person to tell if what they are dealing with is alcohol dependence or normal alcohol consumption.

The Basics of Alcohol Addiction

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) categorizes an alcohol use disorder (AUD) as a mental health condition. AUDs are traditionally characterized by their ability to rob people of impulse control. As such, many mental health professionals describe alcohol use disorder as a disease affecting an individual’s mind.

Once the brain is under the influence of substance abuse, it can be hard to win back. That’s because as abuse and addiction progress, alcohol actually changes a person’s brain chemistry.

From personal relationships to professional careers, alcohol use disorders cause people to almost entirely lose control over their life. Even a functional alcoholic can not escape the negative consequences of alcohol or drug abuse. Their brains become wired to seek and consume alcohol to function and it is vastly out of their control.

Imagine dunking your head underwater and holding your breath as long as you can. Then you come up gasping for air.

But what if you can’t? What if something is blocking you from lifting your head out? Your brain and body will have an automatic response to fight to get air. You NEED air. You panic, you thrash, and you push up on whatever is blocking you. It is not a choice. You HAVE TO get air to survive.

A brain addicted to alcohol acts in much the same way. The brain has been changed to need alcohol to function and will do what it takes to satisfy that need. This is why individuals experience physical withdrawal symptoms such as sweating, shakiness, nausea, increased heart rate, disorientation, and even seizures when they suddenly stop drinking or go too long before their next drink.

So as much as people are led to believe that alcoholics choose to drink, it’s not entirely accurate.

Different Forms of Alcohol Abuse

According to alcohol treatment experts and medical professionals, drinking problems can occur in mild, moderate, or severe cases. The mildest of these produce occasional problem drinking patterns. In contrast, the most severe form of AUD can result in long-term addiction and significant health consequences.

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According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), there are different levels of alcohol use people wrestle with including:

  • Moderate Drinking
  • Binge Drinking
  • Heavy Alcohol Use
  • Alcohol Use Disorder

Moderate drinking is the mildest form of alcohol consumption defined as only consuming two or fewer alcoholic beverages a day. Specifically, 2 for men and 1 for women, but of course, this is a general guideline as it depends more so on an individual’s size and metabolism.

Binge drinking patterns usually include intervals where individuals consume four to five or more alcoholic beverages within a short time frame (a couple of hours.) Usually, this behavior is seen in college students partying on the weekends.

On the other hand, heavy drinkers are known for making excuses to regularly allow themselves four or more drinks on two or more out of seven days. People who drink this heavily are at risk of hitting the crisis point of addiction, leading them to develop a chronic substance use disorder.

Once a person develops a drinking addiction, they are considered dependent on their use and often require professional treatment to heal.

Signs You May Be Living with an Alcoholic

It may seem like an easy task to identify someone struggling with alcoholism. Much like William H. Macy’s character, Frank Gallagher in the hit Showtime series Shameless, alcoholics are shabby, bleary-eyed, deadbeats, usually with a potbelly, right? So it should be obvious.

But what about high-functioning alcoholics who excel at work or school, maintain close relationships, and are always presentable, but have a secret stash of liquor in their office desk and come home daily to have multiple drinks at night “to decompress?”

What about “mommy wine” culture? Social media often celebrates the idea of drinking to cope with the stress of everyday mom life and makes it acceptable and even normal to end the day with a glass of wine.

Or how about your roommate who goes out partying and comes home wasted from binge drinking multiple times a week? You guys are young and just enjoying your life, right? But they’re also dealing with family issues they haven’t told you about it’s starting to affect their mental health to a point that they’re sneaking drinks during the day as a coping mechanism.

In the real world, signs of alcoholism can be much more challenging to detect. Drinking alcohol is a staple in many American social groups and picking up behaviors that are typical of alcoholism or precursors to addiction can be challenging.

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Nonetheless, there are some signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse you can look out for, including

  • Job loss or unusual troubles at work
  • Depression
  • Increased lethargy
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Engaging in unacceptable behavior (illegal activities, displays aggression, physical or emotional abuse)
  • Avoiding contact with loved ones
  • Hiding from others while drinking
  • Hiding bottles of alcohol
  • Increased tolerance for alcohol
  • Drinking at inappropriate times or places
  • Alcohol seeking
  • Alcohol cravings
  • Avoiding situations and events where alcohol will not be present
  • Changing friends to be with people who drink heavily
  • Self-isolation
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not drinking

Typically, the more severe the condition, the more pronounced the symptoms of abuse will be. But the earlier you address the issue, the better chances your loved one will have of recovery.

There are consequences to developing a dependence on alcoholic beverages. Luckily, there is a chance for healing and redemption.

It’s Not Your Fault

Now that you know some of the signs of living with an alcoholic, you must do all you can to not engage in the blame game. When faced with a problem, most people want to do two things – fix it, and place blame. Addiction is an ugly disease that causes significant pain to millions of people, but placing blame will not help you overcome it.

You cannot blame yourself or your alcoholic partner for what has happened. You didn’t force them into addiction. And they weren’t trying to become addicted. Sure, certain choices were made that may have led to dependence, but there are also many risk factors of addiction that are not in our control. Factors such as genetics — which alone accounts for about 50% of an individual’s risk for addiction — childhood trauma, and mental illness all contribute to addiction, yet are not choices one makes for themself.

  • This is Not Your Fault
  • Don’t Take it Personally

Blaming is irrelevant, and even harmful. There will be a time and place to come to terms with all the events that led up to an alcohol dependency and to make amends with those affected by the choices that were made. For now, the important part is taking the next step and seeking help.

It is up to you both to fight addiction. Of course, you can’t go to rehab for them. What you can do, however, is to create a support system of family and friends that will be there for them. And, just as importantly, you’ll need to learn how to let go of guilt and engage in self-care so you not only help yourself heal but also build a stronger support system for your partner to lean on.

Substance Use Disorders Aren’t Curable, But They Can Be Treated

Substance use disorders like alcoholism are considered chronic diseases, diseases that are persistent and long-lasting. Heart disease and asthma are other chronic diseases that are likely familiar to you. Individuals with these diseases typically have them for life, and though they can’t be cured they can be treated and managed successfully. Addiction is no different.

For most physical diseases, people seek the help of a medical professional. With substance use disorders, particularly alcoholism, people often believe they can handle the problem themselves. They can quit cold turkey whenever they want. The problem with this response is two-fold.

First, individuals who are heavy drinkers and/or have been drinking for a long time will experience withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be brutal and, in some cases, even deadly. Most individuals quickly fall back into their old ways because the physical and mental discomfort is simply too consuming and unbearable.

Second, most addictions stem from unresolved traumas and/or are accompanied by co-occurring, untreated mental health disorders. Just because you’re able to quit drinking on your own doesn’t mean that you’ve addressed the issues that initiated your addiction in the first place. Relapse is common for recovering addicts and alcoholics as it is. By not addressing the deeper issues and learning coping strategies for triggers, you’re simply setting yourself up for failure.

But with professional addiction rehab, individuals can recover in a safer and more wholesome manner and live healthy, happy lives.

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Living with Alcoholics: What’s Next and How to Deal With it

Addiction can change your homelife if it grows and spirals out of control, affecting every single member of the family in one way or another. Living with someone struggling with an addiction can be detrimental for one’s mental and physical well-being. The impact of alcohol addiction can be especially hard for children. Once you’ve realized your loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction, it’s imperative to address the situation and not let it linger.

Confronting Your Loved One

Confronting your loved one about their alcoholism can make you feel very anxious. It’s a tough subject to discuss, and you might fear their reaction. You’ll want to be supportive, unaccusing, open, and not forceful. Sometimes your suggestions will be met with eagerness for change, and other times, your loved one may ignore them. As frustrating as it may be, you have to continue the process and know that you are not alone in your struggle. When you’re ready to speak to your loved one, consider these tips:

  • Talk to them when they are sober. Provide examples of what you’ve been noticing. Discuss the impact their drinking is having on the family. Discuss possible causes.
  • Don’t judge or be accusatory. Be understanding. Don’t present ultimatums such as threatening to leave them if they don’t seek help. It rarely helps and usually makes a situation worse for everyone.
  • Reassure them that they are loved and that you will be there to support them. Consider opening up to close family or friends to seek additional support.
  • Talk about the next steps. Research treatment programs; look into inpatient and outpatient programs. Call and schedule an admissions tour for any facilities you’re interested in.

Don’t Enable, but Don’t Hover

Dealing with an alcoholic spouse or family member can feel like walking on eggshells. What’s the right thing to do? What should you not do? What if you make it worse? Though there is some gray area here because everyone’s situation is different, here are some general tips:

  • Be a supportive role model.
    If your loved one is struggling with addiction, it’s not a good idea for you to order a drink for yourself when you’re out to dinner. Be considerate of their struggle. You should also remove any alcohol in the home. It won’t prevent them from stopping at the store to buy more, but it removes the temptation and immediate access.
  • Don’t be an enabler.
    Enabling is when you cover up mistakes or make excuses for the other person. For example, cleaning up the mess they made when they came home wasted or taking the blame for backing into the neighbor’s mailbox when it wasn’t you driving the car. Making excuses could be as menial as validating drinking a bottle of wine by saying, “oh, she’s just had a rough day at work, and her boss has been putting a lot of stress on her lately.” To blatant lying, “sorry he couldn’t make it to the family BBQ, he’s got the stomach flu,” when, in reality, they’re just severely hungover.
  • Learn when to let go.
    This doesn’t mean you need to let them go entirely. Simply that there’s only so much you can do as a supportive spouse or family member, and hovering or watching their every move is too much. You can offer guidance and support, but it is not your job to cure them. You need to set healthy boundaries for yourself and sometimes this might mean detaching. It can be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do to watch your loved one suffer or destroy themselves and know that you can’t do anything about it. But, sadly, there are times a person needs to hit rock bottom before they finally find clarity and agree to get help.

Time for an Intervention

Don’t be surprised if your initial conversation with your loved one was ineffective. Many individuals suffering from addiction have a hard time admitting they have a problem, and an even harder time accepting help. In some instances, you may have tried broaching the subject but your loved one was entirely unwilling to listen. In other scenarios, you’ve talked to them about their addiction many times, yet nothing has changed. At some point, you may consider an intervention.

An intervention is a planned meeting with family, friends, even coworkers, and (preferably) a professional interventionist. The intent is to confront the individual about how their drinking has negatively affected everyone around them and hopefully induce an “eye-opening” moment, thereby leading to a willingness to seek treatment. An intervention will address treatment options and consequences for not following through.

Getting Out of a Dangerous Situation

Not everyone handles their liquor well. Some individuals can become aggressive, abusive, and dangerous when under the influence. If you are in such a situation, it is imperative to leave and find safety. Whether that be enlisting the help of friends or family, calling a local outreach group, or calling the police to file a report and have them intervene. Leaving is usually much easier to say than do, but you must prioritize yourself and your family.

Healing is not a linear process in rehab or at home. It will take some time, with both triumphs and setbacks, until you feel fully secure again. But we assure you, the work you put in is well worth the result.

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Not Every Alcoholic Wants or is Comfortable with Addiction Treatment

People who abuse alcohol never intend to become addicts. As unbelievable as it may seem, many don’t even realize the extent of their condition or don’t think they have a problem at all. Those who do, are often reluctant to accept the help of a professional treatment facility. Many studies and surveys have been conducted to determine why. Though there are a variety of reasons why someone wouldn’t want professional help, some of the most common reasons for reluctance to treatment include:

  • Denial
  • Belief in solving one’s own problem (ironically, “could not solve problem on my own” was the primary reason reported for seeking professional help.)
  • Lack of confidence in the effectiveness of professional addiction treatment
  • Fear of treatment (afraid of what might happen; had a bad experience in the past.)
  • Stigma (too embarrassed; family is embarrassed; people will think poorly of them)
  • Privacy concerns (don’t like talking in groups or sharing problems with others.)
  • Negative social support (fear losing close friends; friends or family don’t want them to go.)
  • Time conflicts
  • Poor treatment availability (facilities are too far; transportation issues)
  • Admissions difficulty (waiting lists; too many steps to be taken before beginning)

Agreeing to addiction treatment can be scary and overwhelming. It’s easier to live in denial or to make excuses. Individuals who struggle with alcohol abuse will likely experience a wide range of shame, guilt, and fear. In the end, it must be their decision to go to rehab; otherwise, treatment won’t be as effective.

Support for Spouses of Alcoholics

Being on the sidelines of your loved one’s recovery journey can be challenging. Still, your healing is just as important. If you are the husband or wife of an alcoholic, there are support groups and treatment aids to help you recover too!

The best way to support yourself is by understanding what alcohol addiction is, what it does, and having a support system set up for yourself. Many relationships involving addiction are also ones of codependence. Codependency is the opposite of a healthy, mutually-beneficial relationship. It is lopsided and dysfunctional where one person is the “giver,” and the other is the “taker.” Though codependent relationships are often between spouses, they are also experienced between parent and child, siblings, family members, or friends.

Addiction, by default, can create a codependent relationship, but there needs to be a balance between helping and giving too much of yourself to your detriment. You can find out more about codependency and support groups that can help you healthily navigate this journey.

Here are some tips to help yourself during your loved one’s recovery:

  • Be honest with yourself and your loved ones about how their alcohol abuse hurt you
  • Speak to supportive family and friends often
  • Educate yourself on alcoholism and what it does
  • Make sure you are prioritizing your own health and safety
  • Take responsibility for minors under your care
  • Implement healthy boundaries for yourself
  • Take time to practice self-care and boost your self-esteem
  • Enroll in a support group
  • Go to individual therapy
  • Participate in family therapy

Recovery is a long-haul journey. By working together and supporting each other, you will learn a lot and get to where you need to be to feel safe, happy, and healthy again.

St. John’s Recovery Place Can Provide Professional Addiction Helpcouple embracing very happy with the sun shining.

St. John’s Recovery Place (SJRP), we work hard to treat each addiction case with special care. We combine innovation with holistic treatment practices by providing traditional and alternative means of healing.

Alcohol addiction and living with alcoholics can be scary, but with the help of professional addiction specialists at SJRP, treatment is attainable. If you live with an alcoholic and want to know how to help them recover, call us at 1-833-397-3422 to learn more about our center and the treatment options available for you and your family.

You won’t regret taking the first step toward healing.