Tyler Oesterle, M.D., M.P.H.
Chemical Dependency Treatment
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Recognizing, addressing loved ones' alcohol use
Alcohol abuse affects millions of Americans every year. Approximately 3 million people worldwide die each year due to alcohol use, according to the World Health Organization. Alcohol is a danger for many people today.
Addiction to alcohol, also known as a process addiction, changes the brain, impairs thinking and damages relationships. And it causes endless problems.
Unfortunately, there continues to be a stigma surrounding addiction. This stigma can prevent people, especially professionals, from seeking necessary help.
Alcohol, while often socially acceptable and legal for the responsible adult, can turn into fighting, accidents, and other risky behavior, leaving family members uncertain of what just happened.
So what do you do when your loved ones' glass of wine becomes the whole bottle and concerns arise? There are options.
First, recognize signs that alcohol is an issue for your loved ones:
- Drinking larger quantities of alcohol and drinking more frequently.
Addiction is a disease that cannot be haphazardly turned on and off.
- Loss of interest in what your loved ones used to care about most.
This can include family, hobbies, work and health. As addiction takes over, nothing else seems as important.
- Change in daily patterns.
This often includes changes in eating and sleeping, and a change in appearance. Addiction will begin to alter behavior and personal hygiene.
- Separation from close friends and family.
Isolation will set in — from shame, guilt or embarrassment — as well as anger and resentment toward others they blame for their addictive behavior.
Once you identify that your loved ones may be in trouble, you can act.
Here are a few tips:
- Identify how the behavior affects you and others.
Think about specific examples of when you have witnessed alcohol use getting out of hand and how that affected you.
- Talk with other family, friends.
Speak with other family members and friends about your concerns. Ask if they've witnessed the same concerns.
- Seek professional advice.
Contact a substance abuse professional, mental health professional, physician, member of the clergy or another helping professional to discuss your concerns.
- Have an open and honest conversation.
When you're ready to talk with your family member or friend about your concerns, be prepared. Set aside some time that works for both of you and when your loved one is not drinking. Make sure you let the person know that you care and that is why you are bringing this to his or her attention. Make the conversation a two-way street and be careful not to lecture or badger.
- Be supportive.
Don't anticipate a drastic change and don't push if they aren't ready to address these concerns. Ask if you can speak again in the future about the topic.
Encouraging your loved ones to get help
Don't expect your loved ones to overcome a drinking problem alone. Medical supervision may be needed to withdraw safely, as well as professional counseling support and guidance to establish new coping skills to quit or cut back on drinking.
You can encourage your loved ones to get help by:
- Offering to accompany them to appointments with their health care provider, group meetings or counseling sessions. Learn more about chemical dependency treatment near you.
- Sitting with your family member or friend while they call a help line for advice
- Making a concrete plan together, detailing what changes they will make and how. You can help your loved ones by recognizing when they need help and intervening appropriately.
Your role doesn't end when your loved ones agree to seek help. Recovery is an ongoing process, requiring time and patience. But with your ongoing support, they can get there.
Tyler Oesterle, M.D., is a chemical dependency physician at Fountain Centers in Albert Lea, Minnesota.