It starts with a beer, a glass of wine or a cocktail. Then there’s another … and another … and another. You watch as your family member or friend slowly changes with each tip of the bottle.
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It’s a routine you’ve witnessed repeatedly — and it never gets less painful to watch. So, what can you do? Addiction psychiatrist Akhil Anand, MD, offers these tips to help you persevere.
1. Don’t blame yourself
Caring about someone with an alcohol addiction can lead to worry and sleepless nights. You might spend a lot of time thinking about your actions as it relates to their addiction, says Dr. Anand.
If that describes you, take a step back. “You are not responsible for what someone else does,” reassures Dr. Anand. “It’s their decision to use alcohol. Don’t carry that weight.”
2. Protect yourself
“Angry drunk” isn’t just a phrase. It’s often a reality that grows more concerning with every downed glass. Studies show that the risk of a situation turning violent is five times higher when alcohol enters the mix.
If you’re going to engage someone who’s been drinking and shown flashes of violence, don’t do it alone. Bring someone you can trust with you, advises Dr. Anand.
And if you feel threatened, call the police. “Don’t put yourself in danger,” stresses Dr. Anand.
3. Talk to someone
Being close to someone addicted to alcohol can bring an immense amount of stress into your life. A lot of emotions — frustration, sadness, bitterness and more — may whirl through your mind.
Talking to an addiction counselor can help you better understand the situation and work through your feelings. Programs like Al-anon, Alateen and Families Anonymous offer opportunities for emotional support.
“Don’t forget to take care of yourself,” says Dr. Anand. “It’s not easy when your life intersects with someone dealing with an addiction. It’s important to find an outlet where you can talk about it.”
4. Learn to say ‘no’
When someone gets too drunk or hungover to fulfill their basic responsibilities in life, they often rely on those around them to get the job done. And all too often, their friends and family pick up the slack.
But that attempt to be helpful can send the wrong message: “If you take care of problems for them over and over again, they never see or feel the consequences of their drinking,” explains Dr. Anand.
So, take a step back and let them deal with the after-effects of their addictive behavior.
5. Don’t cover up bad behavior
Did a night of excessive drinking leave cans or bottles littering your living room floor? Or splatters of vomit in the bathroom? Don’t rush to clean it up. Let the person who made that mess see it.
“It’s not your duty to hide the results of their drinking so they avoid feeling any sort of embarrassment,” says Dr. Anand.
6. Avoid negotiations
It’s natural to want someone you care about to stop drinking so heavily. Odds are, your desire is no secret, either — which is why you should be wary if that person tries to “trade” a change in addictive behavior for something.
“You cannot negotiate someone into sobriety,” says Dr. Anand. “They need to take the action — and it should not be dependent on you somehow making it worthwhile for them.”
7. Be honest
Don’t make excuses for someone’s addiction or downplay it. “Be open and honest,” encourages Dr. Anand. “Communicate in a way that is calm and constructive but not emotional.”
8. Limit expectations
Celebrate if a friend or loved one with an addiction takes a step toward rehabilitation … but don’t be surprised by a stumble. Relapse rates are common among those who seek treatment for an addiction.
An addiction is a brain disorder, after all, and not something that’s easily resolved. It can take 10 or more attempts at treatment before someone makes progress on overcoming an addiction.
“It’s best to know that going in,” says Dr. Anand, “because it’s very hard to watch it happen.”
9. Stay positive
Coping with someone addicted to alcohol isn’t easy. It can test your patience and shatter your feelings. But try to separate the person from the addiction. Do your best to understand that they’re dealing with an illness.
“Let them know that you care,” says Dr. Anand. “Offer unconditional love and give them positive affirmations. Be there for them as much as you can — but make sure you take care of yourself, too.”
To hear more from Dr. Anand on this topic, listen to the Health Essentials Podcast episode “How To Help Someone With an Alcohol Addiction.” New episodes of the Health Essentials Podcast are available every Wednesday.