Alcoholism and alcohol abuse can affect all aspects of your life. Long-term alcohol use can cause serious health complications, affecting virtually every organ in your body, including your brain. Problem drinking can also damage your emotional stability, finances, career, and your ability to build and sustain satisfying relationships. Alcoholism and alcohol abuse can also have an impact on your family, friends and the people you work with.
The effects of alcoholism and alcohol abuse on the people you love
Despite the potentially lethal damage that heavy drinking does to the body – including cancer, heart problems, and liver disease – the social consequences can be just as devastating. Alcoholics and alcohol abusers are much more likely to get divorced, have problems with domestic violence, struggle with unemployment, and live in poverty.
But even if you’re able to succeed at work or hold your marriage together, you can’t escape the effects that alcoholism and alcohol abuse has on your personal relationships. Drinking problems put an enormous strain on the people closest to you.
Often, family members and close friends feel obligated to cover for the person with the drinking problem. So they take on the burden of cleaning up your messes, lying for you, or working more to make ends meet. Pretending that nothing is wrong and hiding away all of their fears and resentments can take an enormous toll. Children are especially sensitive and can suffer long-lasting emotional trauma when a parent or caretaker is an alcoholic or heavy drinker.
Getting help for alcoholism or alcohol abuse
If you’re ready to admit you have a drinking problem, you’ve already taken the first step. It takes tremendous strength and courage to face alcohol abuse and alcoholism head on. Reaching out for support is the second step.
Whether you choose to go to rehab, rely on self-help programs, get therapy, or take a self-directed treatment approach, support is essential. Recovering from alcohol addiction is much easier when you have people you can lean on for encouragement, comfort, and guidance. Without support, it’s easy to fall back into old patterns when things get tough.
Your continued recovery depends on continuing mental health treatment, learning healthier coping strategies, and making better decisions when dealing with life’s challenges. In order to stay alcohol-free for the long term, you’ll also have to face the underlying problems that led to your alcoholism or alcohol abuse in the first place.
Those problems could be depression, an inability to manage stress, an unresolved trauma from your childhood, or any number of mental health issues. Such problems may become more prominent when you’re no longer using alcohol to cover them up. But you will be in a healthier position to finally address them and seek the help you need.
Helping a loved one with alcoholism or alcohol abuse
If someone you love has a drinking problem, you may be struggling with a number of painful emotions, including shame, fear, anger, and self-blame. The problem may be so overwhelming that it seems easier to ignore it and pretend that nothing is wrong. But in the long run denying it will be more damaging to you, other family members, and the person with the drinking problem.
What Not To Do
- Don’t attempt to punish, threaten, bribe, or preach.
- Don’t try to be a martyr. Avoid emotional appeals that may only increase feelings of guilt and the compulsion to drink or use other drugs.
- Don’t cover up or make excuses for the alcoholic or problem drinker or shield them from the realistic consequences of their behavior.
- Don’t take over their responsibilities, leaving them with no sense of importance or dignity.
- Don’t hide or dump bottles, throw out drugs, or shelter them from situations where alcohol is present.
- Don’t argue with the person when they are impaired.
- Don’t try to drink along with the problem drinker.
- Above all, don’t feel guilty or responsible for another’s behavior.
Dealing with a loved one’s alcohol problem can be an emotional rollercoaster. It’s vital that you take care of yourself and get the support you need. It’s also important to have people you can talk honestly and openly with about what you’re going through.
A good place to start is by joining a group such as Al-Anon, a free peer support group for families coping with alcoholism. Listening to others with the same challenges can be a tremendous source of comfort and support. You can also turn to trusted friends, a therapist, or people in your faith community.
- You cannot force someone you love to stop abusing alcohol. As much as you may want to, and as hard as it is to watch, you cannot make someone stop drinking. The choice is up to them.
- Don’t expect the person to stop drinking and stay sober without help. Your loved one will need treatment, support, and new coping skills to overcome a serious drinking problem.
- Recovery is an ongoing process. Recovery is a bumpy road, requiring time and patience. An alcoholic will not magically become a different person once sober. And the problems that led to the alcohol abuse in the first place will have to be faced.
Admitting that there’s a serious problem can be painful for the whole family, not just the alcohol abuser. But don’t be ashamed. You’re not alone. Alcoholism and alcohol abuse affects millions of families, from every social class, race, and culture. But there is help and support available for both you and your loved one.