Alcoholism and substance abuse can take a huge emotional toll on both the alcoholic and those who care about them. If you are living with an alcoholic or are actively involved in their life, you know the pain of living with addiction. Learning how to find help for a loved one with alcoholism or addiction may be challenging, but we’re here to help.
Living with an alcoholic is stressful. When they are drinking, they can be unpredictable, unreliable, volatile, secretive, angry, withdrawn, explosive, and untrustworthy. It can feel crazy when they look you in the eyes and swear to you that they are not drinking even when you smell the alcohol on their breath or find empty bottles lying around. How are you supposed to manage things when things feel so out of control?
In this article, we will attempt to answer some of the most common questions that people have when their loved one is struggling with alcoholism or substance abuse. We will also provide you some guidance about steps that you can take to get them the help that they need and return some sanity back into your own life.
You can also learn more about How to Help an Alcoholic by following this link: How to Help an Alcoholic? (nddtreatment.com)
Why Can’t an Alcoholic Just Stop Drinking?
Have you ever asked, “Why can’t they stop drinking?” or stated something like “If they loved me, they would control their drinking.” This is a common question that people who live with an alcoholic ask.
It is tempting to think that an alcoholic’s struggle with alcohol is simply a lack of willpower. After all, you have probably seen them spend days, weeks, or even months seemingly in control of their drinking. Maybe you’ve seen them take a couple of drinks and then put it away. Those moments often provide a sense of relief and hope that finally, things are going to get better. How many times has that sense of hope been followed by despair and disappointment when you see them binge again or you find evidence that they have been drinking more than you knew?
In the back of your mind, you probably knew that they weren’t going to stop. You’ve most likely seen this story play out before. That may be one of the reasons you are reading this article now.
Alcoholics Can’t Control Their Drinking
The alcoholic can’t stop drinking because they are addicted. If they could control their drinking they would. They don’t want to be out of control, it’s just that once they start drinking, they lose their ability to control their drinking. To understand the alcoholic, it is helpful to understand the disease concept of addiction.
Alcoholism is a Disease
You probably know people who are able to control their drinking. Or you might even be one of those people who can have a couple of drinks and then consciously decide that you have had enough. You or others you know might drink socially, but it doesn’t control your life. Alcoholics don’t experience alcohol in the same way.
Alcohol affects the mind, body, and spirit of the alcoholic. It is like their brain is allergic to alcohol. Once an alcoholic or addict consumes one drink, their brain begins to crave more. For them, one drink is too many and one hundred is not enough. The alcoholic’s thoughts can become consumed with the desire to drink. They begin to spend all of their time either preparing to drink, drinking, or recovering from the last drinking episode. In their sane moments, an alcoholic will tell you that they wish they could drink in moderation, it’s just that they can’t.
Alcoholics can’t drink because it changes the way that they think in very profound ways. Their brains don’t process alcohol the way that yours does, so don’t expect them to manage their drinking the way that you would.
You can learn more about the disease concept of alcoholism and addiction by following this link: Stages of Alcoholism and Addiction – New Dimensions Day Treatment Centers (nddtreatment.com)
How Do You Know If Your Loved One Is An Alcoholic?
This is a great question and one that everyone struggles with at some point. One way to think about alcoholism is to think of a continuum. On one end of the continuum is occasional drinking and on the other end is alcoholism. In general, the more a person drinks the more they move up the continuum and the closer they get to alcoholism.
The continuum gives us a simple way of explaining how someone who was able to control their drinking in the past may have crossed the invisible line into addiction. Unfortunately, the continuum model doesn’t fully capture the progression of addiction. For example, some people are able to use alcohol for years without becoming addicted, while others may become an alcoholic the first time that they drink. You might wonder, “How can this be?” The answer goes back to the Disease Concept of Addiction.
We don’t yet fully understand why some people become alcoholics and others don’t, but years of experience have taught us that once someone crosses the invisible line into alcoholism there is no going back. Something in their brain changes in a way that makes it impossible for them to manage their drinking. There is currently no cure for alcoholism, but it can go into remission. Abstinence from alcohol is the path toward remission. We call this “being in recovery.”
To learn more about the signs of alcoholism follow this link: Signs of Alcoholism – New Dimensions Day Treatment Centers (nddtreatment.com)
Alcohol Use Disorder
While most people still refer to someone who is abusing alcohol as an alcoholic, professionals now use the term Alcohol Use Disorder (instead of alcoholism). This term more accurately captures the different levels of alcohol abuse and the problems that it causes. Someone who is a “functional alcoholic” falls under Alcohol Use Disorder as well as someone who is a “binge drinker.” For the purposes of this article, we will continue to use the term alcoholism and alcoholics, but it is helpful to realize that there are different levels of alcohol abuse and addiction.
To understand more about the signs of Alcohol Use Disorder follow the links below:
- Signs of Alcoholism – New Dimensions Day Treatment Centers (nddtreatment.com)
- What Are the Top 10 Signs of Alcoholism? – New Dimensions Day Treatment Centers (nddtreatment.com)
Why Are Alcoholics So Angry?
Remember that alcohol affects the way an alcoholic thinks. Underneath the anger is often feelings of shame, hurt, and remorse. Alcoholics often hide their feelings of shame by blaming others around them. They also use anger to get you to back off so that they can continue to drink. Anger can also be a part of the changes in personality that can come from addiction.
This anger is also part of their denial. It is not unusual to hear an alcoholic say something like: “I don’t have a problem; you are the problem.” For many alcoholics, once they get sober, their anger begins to go away.
Why Do Alcoholics Lie About Their Drinking?
Ultimately alcoholics lie about their drinking in order to protect their access to alcohol. As their desire to drink intensifies, they begin to hide both the amount and frequency of their drinking from those around them. The less others know about how bad the drinking is, the more they can continue to drink.
Alcoholics also lie about the effects that their alcohol abuse has on themselves and on those around them. The lies that they tell themselves is often called Denial. Alcoholics deny that they have a problem, they deny that they have changed because of their drinking, and they deny that it is causing problems in their relationships. Anyone who challenges their denial is often met with anger and hostility.
To learn more about why alcoholics lie follow this link: Why do Alcoholics and Addicts Lie? – New Dimensions Day Treatment Centers (nddtreatment.com)
I Feel Crazy Sometimes, Is It Just Me?
If you’ve ever felt crazy living with an alcoholic or addict, you are not alone. Alcoholics can make you question your own thoughts, beliefs, and feelings. You can watch an alcoholic take a drink and then listen to them insist that they aren’t drinking. In essence, they tell you “Don’t believe your own eyes, believe what I am telling you.” This would make anyone feel crazy. Remember, it is okay to trust your own instincts. You know what you know, even if your loved one is trying to convince you differently.
What Did I Do to Cause This To Happen? Am I The Problem?
Remember that alcoholism affects people from all types of backgrounds. It can affect people who grew up in loving homes just like it can affect people who grew up in abusive homes. Alcoholism is a disease that is an equal opportunity destroyer. So don’t blame yourself for your loved one’s addiction. Alcoholics drink because they are addicted.
However, it is important to note that emotional problems, mental health problems, relationship conflicts, traumas, and other stressors can also be a part of the issues that your loved one may be dealing with. For example, there may be unresolved conflicts between you and your loved one that needs to be addressed. There could also be mental health problems, such as an underlying bipolar disorder that needs attention. These issues are important and may need to be addressed for your loved one to maintain sobriety, but they aren’t the cause of their alcoholism.
Can An Alcoholic Get Sober On Their Own?
Some alcoholics are able to get sober on their own. Unfortunately, this seems to be the exception rather than the rule. The reality is that most alcoholics make multiple attempts to quit drinking on their own prior to coming into treatment. Some of the ways that alcoholics first try to manage their drinking include, cutting back the amount that they drink, only drinking on certain days of the week, and changing the type of alcohol that they drink. They may also make bargains with those around them and promise that they are going to manage it “this time.” If you’ve seen them be unsuccessful in their attempts to manage their drinking in the past, then it is highly likely that they will need help to get sober now.
Fortunately, treatment really can help. Most alcoholics are initially reluctant to seek help and are often scared of going into treatment. Part of their fear is that they don’t want to lose their primary coping mechanism which is alcohol. The paradox of addiction is that the alcoholic sees alcohol as their solution rather than admitting that it is the cause of their problems. Treatment can help them break through their denial about their alcoholism and provide them with the tools and support they need to get sober.
My Loved One Doesn’t Want To Get Help
Most alcoholics enter treatment during times of crisis. The crisis could be a DWI, a positive drug screen at work, a potential loss of a relationship, or some other life crisis that is caused by their drinking. During a crisis, there tends to be a brief window where the alcoholic’s denial diminishes, and they become more willing to admit how unmanageable their life has become.
It is during this time that they tend to be most open to treatment. The further an alcoholic gets away from the crisis, the more they convince themselves that the crisis was not that bad. Their denial tends to return, and they become much less willing to seek help.
What should you do?
So, if your loved one is currently in crisis because of their addiction, get them help quickly. Don’t put it off. If you do, it will be more difficult to get them to agree to treatment until the next crisis occurs.
Don’t enable their behavior. If you bail them out of their crisis you take away the pain of their choices which makes it easier for them to get back into denial. Insist on them getting help before you give them your help.
Interventions can help create the crisis that leads to treatment. An Intervention is a planned process where participants confront the alcoholic about their drinking. Participants also get to communicate how they have been impacted by the alcoholic’s drinking and what they will do if the alcoholic decides not to get help. Interventions aren’t arguments, they are loving confrontations that emphasize the participant’s desire for the alcoholic to get help. Interventions often involve multiple family members, friends, coworkers, and sometimes even employers.
Get counseling for yourself. If you can’t get your loved one into treatment, get help for yourself. It is painful to live with an alcoholic. A counselor can help you manage the challenges of dealing with an alcoholic and develop strategies to make your life more manageable.
You can also have your loved one read the blog in the link below. It is an open letter to alcoholics that often rings true for many people.
What Are The Treatment Options?
The type of treatment depends on a number of factors, including the alcoholic’s motivation to change, their level of physical dependency, their existing support system, and their risk of relapse. Some of the most common treatment options are:
- AA Meetings
- Individual and/or Family Counseling
- Intensive Outpatient Treatment
- Online Intensive Outpatient Treatment
- Outpatient Detox
- Inpatient Detox
- Inpatient Treatment
- Residential Treatment
- Long-term Residential Treatment
Many people are able to become sober with outpatient treatment. Programs such as those offered by New Dimensions allow the alcoholic to continue to maintain their work, school, or life routines while receiving intensive treatment and support. One of the advantages of an outpatient program is that participants are able to immediately put into practice what they learn in treatment because they remain in their normal environment.
Not everyone, however, is able to stay sober in an outpatient setting. Sometimes inpatient treatment is necessary in order to break the cycle of addiction. The best way to determine the correct level of care is to consult with one of our addiction professionals. They can help you determine the best treatment options for your loved one.
New Dimensions Can Help!
If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the above symptoms or problems, New Dimensions can help. Our team of experienced therapists and psychiatrists can help you overcome these challenges and help you develop the skills you need to thrive. To schedule a complementary assessment or to find out more about our programs, contact us at 1-800-685-9796.
Our affiliate, MHThrive, provides Individual Therapy, Couples and Marriage Counseling, and Family Therapy at our locations in Katy, The Woodlands, and the Clear Lake area of Houston, Texas. We also provide telehealth therapy for anyone who resides within the State of Texas. To schedule an appointment with one of the MHThrive therapists, contact us at 713-477-0333 or visit www.mhthrive.com to learn more.