If you have stopped to read this blog, it is likely that you are close to someone who you suspect has become, or is becoming, reliant on alcohol.
You might be worried about a parent’s drinking, or about a sibling? It may be your partner, your child, or a friend? Signs of alcohol dependence can be easy to spot, but a difficult subject to raise with a loved one.
How common is alcohol misuse?
Statistics from Alcohol Change UK report that 24% of adults in England and Scotland regularly consume over the 14-unit-per-week-limit recommended by the UK’s Chief Medical Officers.
The good news is that overall consumption is falling and in 2017, 20% of the population reported not drinking at all. However, in England alone it is estimated that there are still around 602,391 dependent drinkers.
Are some people more susceptible to addiction than others?
As with other addictive behaviours, some people can drink socially throughout their lives without developing an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, while others cannot. There are some factors that may increase the likelihood of developing a substance misuse problem; these can include experimenting with alcohol at an early age, struggling with a mental illness, or experiencing high levels of stress or trauma.
Some research studies suggest that both genes and environmental factors, such as being around other people with addictions, can influence a person’s risk of developing substance misuse.
Be aware of the signs
Being aware of early signs of alcohol abuse is important but be careful not to jump to any hasty conclusions or make any insensitive comments, as this may encourage your loved one to become more discreet or secretive about their drinking.
You may notice that they:
- Start socialising more or going out after work as an excuse to drink more alcohol
- Find it difficult to say no to alcohol or to stop at one or two drinks
- Have unusual mood swings and seem agitated or irritable if they don’t have a drink
- Be more willing to take serious risks, such as choosing to drink and drive
If you are living with someone who is already aware that they are drinking more than they should, you may start to notice signs that they are trying to cover up their misuse, for example they may:
- Become secretive or dishonest about how much alcohol they are buying or drinking
- Start chewing gum or mints, or use a body spray or perfume to mask the scent of alcohol
- Seek more time on their own, maybe in a different room or even behind locked doors (e.g. the bathroom)
- Ask if you can lend them cash, or obtain alcohol for them (if they are under age)
How can I help someone with an alcohol addiction?
As someone close, you are often best placed to notice these and other changes in a loved one’s behaviour. But although you may be feeling uneasy about how much they are drinking, it can be difficult to know what you can do to help.
Find out as much as you can about the condition
The first step to helping is understanding. This will help you to stand back and try to dissociate the illness from the person you know and love, and address what they are experiencing respectfully. Making them feel ashamed of their behaviour will result in them pulling away from you and this is likely to discourage them from talking about their feelings openly.
Talk to them about their drinking
How do you open a conversation that you know will be both unwelcome and upsetting?
Firstly, and crucially, pick a time when they are NOT drinking. Choose a quiet, calm and, if possible, a happy environment, for example whilst out for a walk with the dog.
Be careful not to judge or be confrontational. Perhaps try to explain that things are much happier at home, or whilst out socialising, when they are not drinking excessively.
Encourage them to seek help
One of the most important facts for you to take on board is that you will not be able to help your partner or loved one on your own. The biggest hurdle is getting them to acknowledge that their alcohol intake is becoming an issue and that they need to seek professional advice.
Charities such as Drinkaware provide several online support tools and resources to increase awareness of alcohol misuse and help manage alcohol intake.
As your loved one goes through their journey, the most helpful thing you can do is to be there to give support and encouragement. However, there is a fine line between supporting and enabling.
Enabling behaviours can include:
- Ignoring the signs of addiction
- Making excuses for their behaviour to yourself and others
- Covering up or hiding their drinking from another parent or a partner
- Helping them out financially when their cash is being spent on alcohol
It is useful to set clear boundaries to help control your environment, especially if there are children in the home. They may become secretive or make excuses for their drinking, but it is important to make it clear that they are not welcome in the home if they are not sober.
YOU MATTER TOO!
Addiction can easily become a ‘family disease’ and it can start to consume your thoughts and energy. It should come as no surprise that our advice is for you to pay special attention to your own wellbeing.
Supporting someone with an addiction can be an emotional rollercoaster and may put pressure on relationships and other household issues, such as finances, particularly if your partner or loved one is finding it difficult to hold down a job.
These issues can take a serious toll on your own mental health. You may find it helps to talk to others who are finding themselves in a similar situation, through groups such as Al-Anon, Turning Point or Adfam.
How to find the right support
Confidential advice and treatment can be sought through the NHS, or through various other organisations. There are three main ways to get help:
- Encourage your loved one to make an appointment with their GP. They will be able to suggest different types of support options available, such as local community alcohol services or support groups
- Find a local treatment provider or counselling service that may suit your loved one. If they are considering a private treatment clinic, ensure that the provider is registered with the CQC to provide quality care
- Contact a local community alcohol support service such as AA or SMART recovery.
Click here to find alcohol addiction support services near you. If you would like to arrange an appointment with an addiction specialist at Psychiatry-UK, visit our Contact page, or browse our directory of Health and Lifestyle Services.
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