How to Help an Alcoholic Family Member
Last Updated: December 14, 2023
When your loved one is struggling with alcoholism, you may be unsure how to help them. Intentional support can encourage their recovery and help your family heal from the impact of addiction.
Around 29.5 million U.S. individuals 12 years and older have an alcohol use disorder (AUD). Each of these people comes from a family, community or group of friends who are also dealing with the negative effects of their alcoholism. A person’s loved ones are uniquely positioned to support and motivate them to begin treatment. Figuring out how to best help someone facing AUD is possible and there are resources and professionals to assist you.
Signs of Alcoholism in a Family Member
Recognizing the signs of alcohol dependence in a loved one can alert you when there is cause for concern. While these vary between individuals, common warning signs include:
- Risk-taking behaviors (e.g., drinking while driving or swimming)
- Neglecting commitments and responsibilities at work, school or home
- Building up a tolerance to alcohol, so you have to drink more to have the same effects
- Withdrawal symptoms when the alcohol wears off (e.g., trembling, nausea, anxiety, sweating and insomnia)
- Having the desire to cut down on alcohol or stop drinking but being unable to
- Spending a large amount of time drinking, obtaining alcohol or recovering
- Craving alcohol
- Continuing to consume alcohol despite it creating problems at work, at home, legally and in relationships
- Stopping or reducing activities that you enjoy to drink
Effects of Alcohol Addiction on Families
AUD is a chronic disease that negatively impacts the individual as well as their loved ones. Alcoholism often leads to issues with communication, erratic behavior and neglecting responsibilities affecting the individual’s family. When alcohol misuse harms the family’s finances, home and well-being, it can strain and end their marriage. It may also disrupt their relationship with their parents or siblings.
Children who grow up with parents struggling with alcohol addiction are at greater risk of developing depression, anxiety and PTSD. They may experience trust issues, decreased school performance, poor self-concept and alcohol misuse.
Why Enabling Alcoholism Is Harmful
The term enabling refers to directly or indirectly supporting someone’s unhealthy behaviors. Enabling an individual’s alcoholism perpetuates addiction and allows self-destructive behavior to continue. This endangers their health and further strains their relationships.
Alcoholism progression may lead to financial instability, as more of the family’s resources go towards obtaining alcohol. Enabling also prevents underlying issues, such as mental health concerns or trauma, from being addressed. The individual isn’t motivated by loved ones to seek help. In the long run, this can exacerbate suffering and impede their chances of recovery.
How to Talk to a Family Member With Alcoholism
Approaching a loved one about alcoholism can be challenging. The key is to use open and empathetic communication. Choose a calm, private setting to express your concerns. Use “I” statements to convey your feelings, such as “I’m worried about your health and safety.” Avoid blaming and shaming the individual, and instead encourage them to seek treatment. Listen actively and prepare for resistance, but stay persistent in expressing your support for them getting help.
Finding the Right Rehab Program
Selecting a suitable alcohol addiction treatment program is critical. Research inpatient and outpatient rehab options carefully. Consider your loved one’s needs, financial constraints and the severity of their addiction. Look into treatment options that allow for prompt admission so they don’t lose motivation to enter services.
You’ll also want to search for holistic and trauma-informed treatment centers. These programs work to address patients’ mental and physical health needs, as well as other underlying concerns.
Aftercare support is another important piece of a recovery plan. This helps the person transition back into the community after rehab. Look for local options, such as sober living, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) groups or an individual therapist.
Types of Alcohol Rehab Programs
Various rehab programs are available, so it’s important to determine which facility is most equipped to meet your loved one’s needs. Levels of care in treatment include:
- Medical detox
- Inpatient rehabilitation
- Partial hospitalization program (PHP)
- Intensive outpatient program (IOP)
- Outpatient rehabilitation
Inpatient programs offer residential treatment in a controlled environment. Outpatient programs allow for more scheduling flexibility. This may help individuals who can’t miss work or need to be at home with their children in the evenings.
Preventing Alcoholic Relapse
Relapse prevention is a crucial aspect of recovery. It involves identifying triggers, developing coping strategies and understanding the risk factors.
Creating a Supportive Environment
You can promote recovery by removing alcohol and triggers from the home. Ensure that everyone who lives with the individual understands the importance of a sober atmosphere. This also includes fostering a safe space that allows for open communication and emotional support.
Encouraging Healthy Coping Mechanisms and Communication
Help your loved one adopt healthy coping mechanisms like exercise, meditation or creative outlets. You can offer to go for walks or do yoga with them. Regularly check in and encourage them to express their feelings and thoughts honestly. Listen to understand them, validate their emotions, and model open communication.
Supporting Your Family Member In Recovery
Show your support by attending family therapy and programming with your loved one. Educate yourself about addiction and recovery. Avoid enabling their alcoholism, but practice patience and understanding with them. Care for yourself by attending your own therapy, and encourage them to attend support groups and therapy.
Ongoing Support and Resources for Relapse Prevention
Recovery is lifelong, as is the need for support. The type of support an individual needs can change over time. This may include therapy, support groups, crisis hotlines or sponsors. It can also include programming for loved ones, such as Al-Anon family groups or family therapy. Be on the lookout for signs of relapse and check in on their well-being when you know they’re under stress. If you’re concerned about a potential relapse, address it quickly and connect them to professional help.
Identifying Relapse Triggers
Relapse triggers can be emotional, environmental or social. By recognizing these, you can help your family member develop a plan with strategies to avoid or manage them. This increases their chances of sustained sobriety.
Common triggers include:
- Availability of alcohol
- Physical, sexual or emotional trauma
- Physical pain
- Housing instability
- Financial instability
- Isolation or loneliness
- Certain people
- Anniversary of a specific event
Self-Care for Family Members of Alcoholics
Supporting a family member with alcoholism can be emotionally taxing. Prioritize your well-being by ensuring you get adequate sleep, nutrition and exercise. Set aside time for activities you enjoy, and don’t neglect your own mental health. Reach out to your support system. This may include family, friends, support groups or your therapist. Taking care of yourself empowers you to be a more effective source of support for your loved one.
Establishing clear boundaries is essential when dealing with an alcoholic family member. This means setting limits to maintain and safeguard your well-being. Limit contact when necessary to protect yourself from emotionally draining situations. Refuse to cover up their behavior or enable their addiction. Avoid providing financial assistance that supports their alcohol use. Seek professional help from a therapist to determine which boundaries you want to set. When sharing your boundaries, state them clearly and follow through with them.
You don’t have to go through this journey alone. Reach out to friends, family or support groups for loved ones of alcoholics. Talking about your experiences and emotions with people who can relate can be reassuring and beneficial. Therapists can also offer helpful advice and encouragement customized to your individual circumstances.
Finding Hobbies and Activities to Relieve Stress
Engaging in stress-relieving activities is vital to maintaining your mental and emotional health. Pursue physical hobbies like walking, yoga or swimming to release tension. Explore creative outlets for your emotions, such as painting, writing or music. You don’t need to have any artistic skills for these activities to be stress-relieving.
Connect with trusted individuals who can offer a listening ear or provide distraction when needed. Remember that self-care is not selfish. It ensures you have the strength to continue supporting your loved one while safeguarding your own well-being.
Resources for Family Members of Alcoholics
There are various resources available for family members of those struggling with AUD. These include:
- Professional interventionists
- Individual therapy
- Family therapy
- Education on addiction via the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
- Al-Anon family groups
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I approach a family member who is struggling with alcoholism?
Approach your loved one with empathy and open communication. Choose a quiet, private setting to voice your concerns and the impact their addiction has had. Use “I” statements when sharing and avoid shaming the individual. Provide treatment options available to them and offer to help them get connected.
How can you help an alcoholic sibling?
Encourage your sibling to seek professional treatment. You can attend therapy or support groups together. Create a supportive, alcohol-free environment at home. Avoid enabling their addiction and prioritize their well-being as well as your own.
How can you support an alcoholic loved one?
Offer emotional support by listening to your loved one and validating their feelings and experiences. Educate yourself about addiction and attend family programs and individual therapy. Work with your other family members to create a safe, sober environment that promotes your loved one’s recovery and wellness. Encourage healthy coping mechanisms, maintain open communication and seek professional guidance when needed.
Searching for comprehensive care for your loved one? Orlando Recovery Center provides trauma-informed addiction treatment. Our programs include inpatient, partial hospitalization program (PHP) and intensive outpatient program (IOP). Our physician-led facility offers numerous amenities, EMDR therapy and art activities. We are also a proud partner of the VA Community Care Network. Reach out to our team today and one of our Recovery Advocates will guide you through the admissions process.
Griffith, Vivé. “Distilling Fact From Fiction: Scientist Debunks Myths About Alcohol Dependence To Reduce Stigma of Complex Disease.” University of Texas At Austin. 17 Apr. 2006. Web. 07 Jan. 2016. https://www.utexas.edu/features/2006/alcohol/