Written by: Anne Marie Fogarty, RGN
Living with an Alcoholic – What Help is Available and What Can You Do?
In England, it is estimated that more than 82% of the adult population drinks alcohol at some point during the year. What’s more, just under one in two adults (49%) drinks alcohol at least once per week.
In moderation, alcohol can be enjoyable and even beneficial in small amounts. If consumed in large quantities, however, the effect on the body can be devastating. Alcohol is an addictive substance, and with more and more people increasing their alcohol consumption since the events of 2020 onwards, health experts and officials are growing increasingly concerned about alcoholism.
It is estimated that close to 1,000,000 people in the UK are dependent on alcohol, though experts fear the true figure is much higher.
Alcoholism can destroy lives and tear families apart, and if you live with an alcoholic in your family, it can feel as if there is nothing you can do. There are, however, things you can do, and professional help is available. Here’s a look at what you need to know.
Key alcohol statistics
Before we can begin looking at what you can do to help alcohol-dependent family members, here are some important global and national alcohol statistics you may need to know.
Each year, alcohol is responsible for more than 5.3% of all deaths across the globe. This is more than 3 million deaths.
Nearly 1 in 4 adults in the UK drinks more than the recommended weekly intake of alcohol.
More than 60% of people undergoing alcohol treatment also require mental health treatment.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, more than 1 in 5 drinkers has admitted to increasing their alcohol consumption. Stress was the main deciding factor for this, followed by increased alcohol availability at home.
How to help an alcoholic family member
Living with an alcoholic can be distressing for you, your family, and the individual afflicted by the addiction. The good news is that there are things you can do to help.
Here are some ways to help an alcoholic family member:
Try not to criticise them
Living with an addict can be frustrating. Addiction causes selfish, sometimes downright appalling behaviour, and of course, it can cause you to feel angry and lose your temper. The last thing an alcoholic needs, however, is criticising.
After an alcoholic relapse, they will feel awful and full of guilt. Shouting at them, calling them names, and losing your temper with them will only make them and you feel worse. It could even trigger another relapse. Instead, try to remain calm and see things from their point of view.
Learn about alcoholism and addiction
One of the best things you can do when helping an alcoholic is to learn about alcoholism and addiction.
Educate yourself and learn why people become addicted, what addiction can do to a person, signs and symptoms, and anything else deemed useful. The more you understand alcohol addiction, to more you will be able to empathise.
Think before you speak
Words can hurt, and in the heat of the moment, it can be tempting to tell some ‘harsh truths’ to the family member dealing with the addiction. These words can cut deep, so before you say something you don’t mean, take the time to think before you speak.
Stop trying to control them
When you live with an alcoholic, you will constantly be on edge, worrying about whether they are drinking, whether they plan on drinking, or whether something could trigger them to drink. Because of this, you may try to control them. This is not healthy for any of you.
Whether you’re following them around the house, monitoring what they’re buying, trying to prevent them from leaving the house, or anything else, trying to control an addict will only make matters a hundred times worse.
Seek professional help
Finally, with so much professional help and support out there, nobody in your family needs to suffer alone.
If the individual with the addiction is willing, there are groups you can attend, support groups, phone lines, doctors, rehabilitation centres, medication, and much more, all designed to help people affected by alcoholism.
What UK help and support is out there?
As mentioned, there is plenty of professional help and support for alcoholism here in the UK. Here are just some of the most popular examples:
The most important thing to remember is you want to help the person living with alcohol dependency, yes, but first, you must protect your own health and wellbeing. Make sure you are ok, seek support and then try to help the person.