Cornerstone of Southern California Drug and Alcohol Rehab
Loving an Alcoholic
Author: Cornerstone of Southern California
Published: April 14, 2022

Sustaining any type of healthy relationship takes time, trust, and commitment, so when a loved one has an alcohol use disorder (AUD), it can be difficult to know how to navigate things. Of course, you want to support your loved one, but it is important to remember to look after your own needs. Finding this healthy balance isn't always easy and can often leave you feeling exhausted, drained, and hopeless.

Alcohol use disorder is an all-encompassing disease that affects not just the person drinking, but their family members and loved ones, too. Having an alcohol addiction alters the way a person thinks and acts towards those surrounding them.

In this blog post, we will explore different ways you can cope with the alcohol abuse of a loved one, focusing on your own well-being and mental health while still supporting and encouraging their recovery.

How to Deal with a Loved One's Alcohol Use Disorder

When you love an alcoholic your thoughts and life become dominated by their alcohol consumption. What are they doing? Are they safe? You inevitably find yourself dealing with the consequences of their alcohol abuse and harbor feelings of responsibility and guilt.

It is important to not let the substance abuse disorder of a loved one take control of your life. By shifting the approach you take to their drinking problem, you can successfully change the ways you deal with the situation. Below are 5 things that you should consider if you are dealing with the substance use disorder of a loved one.

1) Don't blame yourself

Alcohol use disorder alters the way the brain functions; those with an alcohol dependency will continue to drink even though it may be having negative consequences on their life. It is important to remember that their difficult relationship with alcohol is not your fault. That there is only so much you can do to support them.

People with alcohol addiction often try to shift the blame onto those surrounding them. They may say things like, 'The only reason I drink is because of you,' but do not take this personally. Someone with an alcohol dependency will drink no matter what.

2) Do not excuse unacceptable behavior

It is tempting to push aside certain behaviors by a loved one when they are drinking heavily: 'They didn't mean it, they just had too much alcohol.' But a substance abuse disorder can lead to other problematic behavior. Do not allow unacceptable behavior of any kind, such as physical or verbal abuse.

If you begin to ignore or excuse these behaviors repeatedly, they may progress and the situation could worsen. In a worst-case scenario, before you know it you may be in a full-blown abusive relationship. Protect your own mental health by learning to be assertive and setting personal boundaries. If you feel afraid of your partner, it is crucial that you take care of your own safety and wellbeing first.

3) Have reasonable expectations

It is very reasonable to want your partner to stop drinking. But although it seems straightforward for many, those with an alcohol dependency find it difficult to simply stop drinking. It is not your sole responsibility to control your loved one's drinking problem. Having expectations is normal but you need to ensure that they are reasonable so that you don't become resentful of your alcoholic partner.

People with an alcohol dependency often find it difficult to set goals and to be honest with themselves, so it may be unreasonable to expect them to be honest with you. They may say 'it's just one drink', but it is a lot harder for them to follow through with this than for someone without a dependency. Maintaining a reasonable expectation level will help your partner as they slowly begin to address their own substance use.

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4) Don't enable their behavior

It's very typical for family members to try and 'help' by making excuses for their loved ones drinking or trying to cover it up. This is called enabling. People with addiction often tell lies personally to make their excessive drinking seem less problematic or to explain away totally unreasonable behavior.

If you continue to repeat these lies, they are less likely to see the need to change. Enabling takes the focus off of bad behaviors, meaning your loved one is less likely to deal with the consequences of their alcohol addiction. Making excuses for your loved one, or repeating the excuses they make for themselves, can lead you both down destructive paths.

5) Practise self-care and put yourself first

If you are dealing with an alcoholic partner it is important that you are putting your own life first and getting the support that you need. When trying to support a loved one through active addiction, it can be easy to forget about your own mental health and well-being needs. Make sure to lean on other family members and to reach out and seek professional medical advice for your mental health.

Support groups are a helpful source of support that can offer you the encouragement you need as a non-alcoholic partner. Sharing your thoughts and ideas with people who are undergoing similar experiences can be empowering and reassuring and provide you with a different perspective. Support groups can also help you regain the self-confidence to continue to pursue a healthy relationship with an alcoholic loved one.

Problems when Loving Someone with an Alcohol Addiction

A successful relationship is one where both people feel their needs are being met, where there is trust and support from both ends and both partners feel loved and safe. This can be difficult if a partner has an addiction to alcohol. There are certain problems that are likely to arise when a partner drinks. These may include:

  • Instability
  • Co-dependency
  • Increased likelihood of physical or verbal abuse
  • Broken promises and trust
  • Questioning the love you are receiving

How to Support a Loved one to Stop Drinking

AUD is a progressive disease that is difficult to cure alone. It is crucial to remember that you are unable to cure your loved one by yourself: professional treatment is needed in order to sustain healthy sobriety.

Recovery is a choice that people have to make for themselves. They ultimately need to choose to seek treatment and follow commitments themselves. There are limited things you can do until someone is ready to receive help. Some actions you can consider include:

Seeking professional medical advice

There are numerous treatment facilities that are available to support your loved one in addiction recovery. However, they need to commit to seeking professional help, either from a trained individual or as a part of a support group, in order to work towards a healthy life without addiction.

Stage an intervention

An intervention provides a space where you are able to speak about the problem openly. Many family members feel closure after an intervention, as it gives loved ones an opportunity to hold the person who is drinking accountable. Interventions typically occur at a crisis point and can take various forms. When a family decides to stage an intervention, they are making the decision to address their own pain by communicating openly about the alcohol problem of a loved one with that loved one.

Hold the person drinking accountable

When a person with a substance use disorder is not held accountable for their actions, they are unable to see the detrimental effects their drinking is having on those surrounding them. Functioning alcoholics in particular may not want to see a problem with their behavior. Until a person feels responsible for the consequences of their drinking, they will likely not feel the need to stop drinking.

You can support your loved one by learning about the road to recovery and the different stages they are likely to experience as they contemplate quitting and attempt to stay sober. You can help your loved one regain control by speaking openly about the problem, staying focused on their recovery, and making them accountable for their own behavior.

Substance Abuse Treatment

There are many treatment options available that can help a loved one to stop drinking. Remember that a person with AUD has a medical condition and often requires professional help in order to get better. Treatment not only focuses on the person but works on rebuilding relationships either through family therapy or group sessions.

If you are worried about the alcohol abuse disorder of a loved one, help is always available to support you in guiding your way through the situation.