Alcohol is a part of the social fabric of this country. We use it to celebrate triumphs, ease the pain of defeats, and as a means of breaking the ice in social interactions.
However, a lot of people have alcohol problems, and sometimes our beloved ones become victims of alcohol addiction.
When used properly, alcohol is moderately harmless, and can even have some minor health benefits; unfortunately, when misused, alcohol can be very dangerous and deadly.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that more than 16 million adults over age 18, and more than half a million youth under age 18, have some type of alcohol use disorder such as binge drinking, or alcohol dependence. Additionally, nearly 88,000 people die from alcohol related diseases annually, and alcohol impairment accounted for 10,076 driving fatalities in 2013 alone.
Because of alcohol’s potential for harm, it’s important to be able to recognize when loved ones are in danger of addiction.
Friends and Family with Alcohol Use Disorders
Addiction, be it to alcohol or other substances, is a slow and insidious process. Most people who drink alcohol do not set out to develop an alcohol use disorder. In fact, most people who drink alcohol regularly do not go onto develop an alcohol use disorder at all. Yet some do, and the difference between those who do and those who don’t depends on several factors such as:
- Vulnerability to developing an alcohol use disorder. This vulnerability could be due to genetics, environmental factors like early exposure to alcohol, or mental health and behavioral issues.
- Frequency and intensity of use. Even with a pre-existing vulnerability to developing an alcohol problem, an individual also needs to continue using, use frequently, and in sufficient quantities after the initial use to develop a disorder.
- Having an incentive to drink. The incentive to drink varies by individual. Because alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, for some the incentive could be the sense of relaxation and calmness that they feel after a few drinks. For others, it could be the sense of belonging and emotional support that they get from drinking in social situations.
- Developing an attachment to alcohol. There comes a point on the addiction path where alcohol is not just something that they drink occasionally at parties, or a glass of wine with dinner, but something that they genuinely cannot live without. This goes beyond the physical addiction and speaks to something deeper and psychological. They actually become attached to alcohol the way they would a good friend or, in this case, frenemy. Additionally, the person could also get to the point where alcohol becomes part of his identity. This emotional attachment is often much harder to break than the physical addiction.
Because of the multiple factors leading to addiction, those with alcohol use disorders often do not seek help on their own because they don’t realize that they have a problem, or because getting help would mean giving up the thing by which he defines himself.
This is why it’s important for friends and family to step in when they suspect a loved one might have an alcohol use disorder.
Stepping in can be difficult, especially if your loved one is in denial about his problem. Often people don’t want to run the risk of alienating their loved ones, so they sit quietly and hope that they will realize the problem on their own and ask for help when they need it.
There is this belief that when an addict “hits bottom” they will reach some sort of epiphany and change their lives. Unfortunately, for many the bottom is death from an alcohol-related illness or incident. While stepping in can be difficult and stressful, it is often the only way that the addict will actually get help.
The important first step is for you to educate yourself on alcohol addiction, as well as the treatment options that are available, such as 12-step programs or alcohol rehab centers (source).
That way you can approach your loved one with love and concern about his condition, and present him with real and viable options for getting help.
You don’t want to preach, lecture, or try to guilt them into getting help, because that might only push them further into their addiction. At the same time, you don’t want to enable them by making excuses for them, or covering for them if the alcohol is interfering with their lives.
It’s a delicate balance that is often difficult to achieve. However, there are addiction specialists, such as interventionists and counselors, who can help you approach your loved one with care and kindness and help him find the road to recovery!