Many of us have friends or family members struggling with alcohol or dependent on alcohol.
The effects it has on their lives and the lives of those around them can be profound. It may be difficult for you to discuss alcohol dependence with the affected person or with others. April is Alcohol Awareness month, and I want to share with you some strategies I have learned from personal experience and as a medical professional.
Your friend or family member may have hurt you or others at times due to their use of alcohol and may give excuses or deny having a problem. Share with them specific examples of their behavior and your concern. If you love or care about this person, let them know that, but also explain how their alcohol use is affecting you and your relationship with them.
Since alcohol impairs the ability to reason or make sound decisions, don’t try to argue with someone when they are drinking. Ensure that you are safe, that they won’t hurt themselves or others, and then have a conversation with them when they are not intoxicated.
If someone arrives intoxicated at a social occasion, you might find this upsetting, but it is important to keep calm. It is OK to be sympathetic about the fact that this person is having a difficult time, but you can be firm about the need for him or her to go home. Offer to call a cab or help arrange other transportation if they’re planning to drive. They’re putting themselves and other people at risk if they drive drunk.
Lecturing, threatening or trying to bribe someone to make changes does not help. It is also not good to cover up for them or take on their responsibilities. You cannot change for them or be responsible for the things they do when they are drinking.
For people who have developed an alcohol use disorder, alcohol has changed how their brain works. They will need to learn new skills and habits and make long-term changes to stop drinking. Once they are involved in treatment and making changes, you can offer emotional support. Recovery from alcohol dependence requires a long-term effort for most people. Frequently, people trying to recover will stumble along the way or relapse, and sometimes people are only ready to cut down on their alcohol use rather than stop entirely.
If your friend or family member is trying to stop drinking, support them by not having social events that center around alcohol. Perhaps you and your friend want to watch a sporting event and you used to watch these in a sports bar. Suggest that you watch the game at home or a coffee house or restaurant with a TV instead. Being in situations around alcohol is frequently a precursor to relapsing.
Doing the right thing for someone dependent on alcohol means not helping that person to remain dependent on it. If this is difficult for you, then I recommend seeking professional help so you can do what is best for you and for your friend or family member.
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence ( www.ncadd.org) has many helpful resources about alcoholism and has a 24-hour assistance line (800-622-2255) that can refer you to local affiliates.