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Often, when a person is experiencing an alcohol use disorder, other people in the family may currently, or in the past, have also experienced one. For this reason, a family may not be entirely unfamiliar with the signs of an alcohol use disorder. The real challenge may in fact be taking action that can help the affected person to recover.
WebMD identifies numerous signs associated with alcohol abuse and addiction. There is a quick distinction that should be made between symptoms and signs. A person who abuses alcohol will experience psychological and physical symptoms, whereas an onlooker would see signs. Symptoms and signs are related, but they are not symmetrical. For this reason, at least when alcohol abuse is in its early stages, a person may not show any outward signs. For instance, a person could feel nauseous but, short of vomiting, may be able to hide this symptom from others.
Some signs of alcohol abuse or addiction that a concerned person may notice include the following:
A person who is concerned with a loved one’s drinking can learn more about symptoms by looking at a screening tool. Though the tools are designed for the person who is drinking, they open a window into what the person’s daily life may look like.
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence provides a nuanced alcohol abuse screening tool on its official website. The tool reflects some of the most common psychological, social, and behavioral factors involved in alcohol abuse.
There are numerous ways that a concerned person can help someone who is experiencing an alcohol use disorder. While there are affirmative approaches, such as staging an intervention, there are also numerous things a person should probably not do.
According to the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information, the following are some actions that will not likely prove very helpful in getting a person to accept help:
Addiction is an insidious disease, and it can warp even the best intentions. For this reason, it is difficult to think about helping a person without first thinking about how to help oneself and the role one may be playing in the abuse. A family member of a person with an alcohol use disorder may be experiencing a disorder known as co-dependency.
Codependency survivor Melody Beattie is a bestselling self-help author on the topic (books include Codependent No More and Beyond Codependency). Speaking broadly, codependency happens when a person, in response to another person’s behavior, takes on the role of ultimate caretaker. Codependent people are often loving and compassionate, but these qualities contribute to them being unable to live their lives because they focus on serving someone who is not getting help for an addiction or other behavior.
Codependency has an unfortunate spin: The codependent person can enable the person with the addiction in avoiding professional help. One of the ways to break free from codependency (and it is a process that may require therapy and considerable personal effort) is to recognize that one is not solely responsible for another person. There is professional help available.
An affirmative step a person can take to get help for someone with an alcohol use disorder is to have an intervention. An intervention can be as informal as a conversation, or it can be a formal intervention that is led by a professional interventionist.
It can be difficult for a person to talk about alcohol abuse or addiction with a loved one. According to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, there are some must-dos when it comes to talking to someone (adult or child) about addiction.
A formal intervention embodies the spirit of an informal one, but it is more structured. Mayo Clinic provides guidance on what to expect from working with a professional interventionist when planning and staging an intervention.
The following are some key steps:
A group of concerned people could, feasibly, stage an intervention with the steps above without hiring a professional interventionist. One concern, however, is that a neutral party will not be present, and the person who needs help may feel the group is ganging up on them. It can also be difficult for a family to maintain calm if they are both guiding and involved in the intervention. The point is, however, that there are different options for an intervention. Generally, interventions run by professionals are more successful.
It is well observed that addiction is a family disease. One the one hand, family can play an instrumental role in the development of a family member’s addiction (e.g., being part of a traumatic event, such as child abuse or divorce). On the other hand, family can also play an instrumental role in healing the addiction. The way this is achieved is not simply by each member focusing on and supporting the person who is in recovery for alcohol or drug abuse. Rather, the individual family members can work on their own personal transformation or get help for issues that are disrupting their enjoyment of life.
Depending on the rehab program, family therapy may be included in the curriculum. Family therapy helps the family unit to improve its interpersonal dynamics, which can be transformative for the group and individuals. Typically, family therapy will start after the person in recovery has made progress.
Family therapy can help the family to come up with a new system that is conducive to healthier living. It can also help the family to understand the reality of what life will be like after the person exits structured treatment, including supporting the person in aftercare efforts. For example, the family may come up with a practical plan for helping the recovering person to attend local Alcoholics Anonymous meetings (because, for example, the person has lost driving privileges due to the alcohol abuse). The important point is that therapy can give a family the opportunity to work through the emotional and practical aspects of life during and after treatment.
Many rehab centers also offer family days. These are typically social days and may include a main activity like a barbeque. The goal is to help the family stay connected and enjoy their time together. Family participation may be especially important when a person is in a residential treatment plan. Ongoing interaction with family provides the recovering person with a vital link to world outside of rehab. Improving family relationships can help to make the transition from rehab to home smoother. It also gives the recovering person and the family opportunities to work out issues, so they don’t come up when the person is first back at home, a period during which the person needs to feel safe and secure.
A family’s efforts can go a long way in helping their loved one not only avoid relapse, but also build a stable and fulfilling drug-free life. A rehab program addresses the addiction and provides the person in recovery with the skills and tools needed to create a sober social network. Not every person in recovery may have the benefit of a concerned family, but for those who do, working together can help to bring about changes that last for a lifetime.