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Living With An Alcoholic Family Member | How To Help & Cope

Published on September 24, 2020
A son comforting his father

Alcohol use disorder can dramatically impact the life of the sufferer, as well as the mental health of family members and friends. 

If you have a loved one who is showing signs of alcohol use disorder, there are important steps you can take to help. We’ll examine how to: 

  • recognize the signs of alcohol use disorder
  • encourage a loved one to seek professional help
  • cope as a family member

First, it’s important to understand how alcohol abuse can adversely affect families.

The Effects Of Alcohol Abuse On Family Members

Alcohol abuse affects the individual suffering from the disorder in many ways, but it also has an impact on the whole family. 

For example, children of alcoholics often blame themselves for the disorder, feeling extreme amounts of guilt for their loved ones’ illness. 

Children may also feel anxious, as they never know what to expect and feel responsible for protecting their alcoholic parent from the scrutiny of others by hiding the signs of the disorder. 

Studies also suggest that living with an alcoholic spouse or partner can cause emotional problems. Coping strategies tend to revolve around minimizing the emotional consequences and social issues caused by stressful situations involving their alcoholic partner.  

Loved ones may also experience issues with trust or denial, as they have likely been disappointed many times by their family member’s drinking problem.

Signs Of Alcohol Addiction

The signs of alcohol abuse can vary from one person to the next, but it helps to identify if there is a drinking problem in the household. 

Some of the signs that may indicate an alcohol use disorder include:

  • experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not drinking, like sweating, shaking, and outbursts of anger
  • reducing work hours, declining social invitations, or giving up hobbies in favor of drinking
  • continuing to drink even though it causes problems at home, work, school, or in interpersonal relationships 
  • spending a lot of time drinking or recovering from alcohol abuse 
  • trying to cut back on alcohol use or limiting drinking unsuccessfully 

How To Help Family Members With Alcohol Use Disorder

When you notice signs of alcohol abuse in a family member, it can be hard to know what to do next. They may have committed to detox or other treatment options before, but then experienced relapse. 

This can feel like a broken promise, but remember that an alcohol problem is a complex mental health issue. Your loved one’s alcohol consumption could be a mental illness that requires going to rehab for professional treatment.

As you attempt to help your loved one realize they need professional help, remember to:

Talk & Be Honest

Talking to someone suffering from alcohol use disorder can be a challenge. Make sure they are sober and in a good place for a conversation. Avoid labels like “alcoholic” and be mindful of their condition

Tell your loved one that you’re concerned about their drinking problem. Offer up some facts or information you’ve learned about alcohol use disorder. 

Talk about the way your loved one’s alcohol use makes you feel, how it affects your relationship, and the long-term health problems it could cause for your loved one and the whole family. 

Offer To Support Your Loved One

Knowing they have an ally on their side can make it easier for your loved one to stop drinking and agree to treatment. Let them know that you fully intend to support them in their recovery journey. 

Offer to serve as emotional support, allowing your loved one to call you whenever they feel like drinking.

Suggest Activities That Help Them Stop Drinking

Remind your loved one that there are plenty of activities you can schedule that don’t encourage alcohol use. Think hiking, gardening, or other activities that keep you active and engaged with one another.

Suggest joining a support group or making an appointment with a primary care provider for guidance. Offer to drive them to and from appointments or support group meetings.

Remember To Take Care Of Yourself

Although professional help provides the tools and skills needed to overcome alcohol use disorder, remember that alcohol abuse affects the whole family. Take care of yourself and acknowledge your well-being, including your own health and self-esteem. 

How you cope living with someone with AUD is directly tied with how you take care of yourself. You need support and must have what you need to be safe, healthy, and happy.

Be open and honest about how you’re feeling, and try to involve other family members. Especially if you’re in a codependent relationship with a spouse or partner, both you and your loved one will benefit from having additional support.

Resources For Family Members & Loved Ones

Life as a friend or family member of a loved one with alcohol use disorder is never easy. 

However, you can improve your quality of life, find support, and help your loved one get the care they need by tapping into helpful resources:

  • support groups — Support groups like Al-Anon or Alateen exist to help you connect with other individuals supporting a family member with alcohol use disorder. 
  • alcohol addiction treatment — If your family member is willing to enter an alcohol addiction treatment program, this will be the best resource available to help both you and your loved one recover from the effects of alcohol abuse. 
  • community resources — Specific organizations in your community may provide additional resources to help you support your loved one, such as intervention services or a local clinic.

To learn about our family therapy programs and treatment services for alcohol use disorder, please connect with us today.

Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
This page does not provide medical advice.

Al Anon Family Groups - Homepage
Industrial Psychiatry Journal - Living with an alcoholic partner: Problems faced and coping strategies used by wives of alcoholic clients
National Institute on Aging - How to Help Someone You Know with A Drinking Problem
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) - Alcohol Use Disorder

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