Supporting a Loved One Who Struggles with Alcohol

By: Cassie Barrera, LPC, LCDC

Imagine that you are holding an umbrella over a loved one while it rains, the rain pouring over you, but the umbrella shielding all of the water from your loved one. You are begging your beloved to come inside to keep you both from getting soaked.

The first step of supporting a loved one that may struggle with his or her alcohol use often consists of recognizing some of the signs. Here are a couple of questions that you might ask yourself:

Does my loved one…

·         Drink more alcohol or drink for a longer time than was intended?

·         Make plans to drive, but find they cannot after drinking?

·         Set a limit for the night and struggle to maintain it?

·         Try to stop drinking, but has been unable to do so?

·         Experience adverse consequences due to their drinking but continue to drink alcohol?

·         Seem to require more alcohol to achieve the same desired effect?

If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, you may be wondering how you can help your loved one. Enabling is the shielding from, or removing of, natural consequences. Shifting from enabling to supporting is essential in your loved one’s recovery and for your self-care.

Here are some tips to consider:

·         Learn about alcohol dependence disorder and addiction. Those that are suffering typically do not enjoy drinking and are losing the ability to control their drinking due to biological changes in the brain.

·         When discussing alcohol use with a loved one, try to use “I feel… when you…” statements. In addition, focus on the most recent behavior. For example, if a spouse has yelled while drinking you might say, “I feel sad and hurt when you yell at me”.

·         Communicate care and concern with your words and actions.

·         Remember that recovery is a circle, not a line. Your loved one might revisit treatment after a slip. This does not mean they, or you, are starting over.  

Set firm boundaries when a loved one refuses help. Hand them the umbrella, and remind them they always have a place inside with you.