Not only does alcohol addiction, or alcohol use disorder (AUD), affect those who have it, but it can also have significant effects on their interpersonal relationships and households.
If you’re living with someone who has AUD, it’s important to understand what’s behind the addiction to alcohol and to learn how to cope. Here’s what you need to know to overcome the challenges of alcohol addiction.
Part of the reason alcohol addiction is so prevalent in the United States is due to its wide availability and affordability compared to other substances, in addition to the fact that it can be purchased legally.
But, as with drug addiction, an addiction to alcohol is considered a chronic, or long-term, disease. More than likely, your loved one knows the dangers of AUD, but their addiction is so powerful that they have a hard time controlling it.
When your loved one drinks or is experiencing withdrawal symptoms, their mood can become unpredictable. They might be friendly one moment, only to become angry and violent the next. According to the Foundations Recovery Network, up to two-thirds of cases of alcohol-related violence occur in close interpersonal relationships. Such instances can put you and your household at risk.
When someone with AUD lives in your household, the rest of your family members can be at risk for negative effects. Some of the most common risks are the damage to your emotional and mental well-being.
Having someone intoxicated on a consistent basis can be stressful and cause anxiety over what’s going to happen next. You might feel guilty about the situation, eventually leading to depression. Your loved one’s addiction might also start taking a financial toll.
Intoxication can also present other unpredictable events, including physical dangers. When under the influence, your loved one may become angry and lash out. They likely don’t even realize they’re behaving this way, and they may not remember once the effects of the alcohol wear off. Someone with AUD may also become angry or irritable when they don’t have access to alcohol because they’re experiencing withdrawal.
Even if your loved one doesn’t become violent from AUD, they can still present security dangers to the household. They may no longer perform the roles they once did, and they can disrupt family dynamics. Such changes can be stressful for the entire family.
If a parent has AUD, a child may experience excessive stress because they don’t know what mood their parent will be in from day to day. Children may no longer be able to rely on the adult with AUD, which can place undue pressures on them. They might also be at risk for other forms of physical and emotional violence.
Children who grow up with a parent with AUD are more likely to misuse alcohol themselves later in life. They’re also at a higher risk for other challenges, including difficulties forming close relationships, lying, and self-judgment.
If a loved one in your household has AUD, consider the following tips to make life more manageable:
- Consider your safety first. This also includes people who are more vulnerable to the effects of physical and emotional violence, such as children and pets. Temporary relocation may be necessary for your loved one with AUD if your safety is threatened.
- Restrict access to your money. Remove your loved one with AUD from any joint accounts, or close them entirely. Don’t give them cash, even if they say it’s for other purposes besides alcohol.
- Don’t enable. If you continue to support your loved one’s alcohol addiction by letting things remain status quo, you may be enabling them. You may also be enabling your loved one if you continue to buy alcohol or give them money to spend on the addiction themselves. The fear of anger or retribution can fuel such enabling behaviors. But in order to break this cycle, it’s important to not give in.
- Set up an intervention. This is an opportunity when your loved one’s family members, friends, and co-workers all come together to persuade them to stop drinking. It’s also important to have a neutral party present, such as a therapist.
- Get your loved one to a treatment program. These can include residency programs for more intense cases of AUD. Your doctor can help recommend the best fit for your loved one.
It’s also important to address your family’s own needs at this time. Make sure your children are eating a healthy diet and getting adequate exercise and sleep.
Consider professional help or support for you and your family. A support group to build connections with others who are going through similar experiences can be beneficial.
Talk therapy (or play therapy for younger children) can also help you all work through the challenges AUD can present to a household.
After recovery, some people with AUD may need support from friends and family. You can help by offering unconditional support, including abstaining from drinking yourself.
It’s also important to ask your loved one directly what you can do to help, especially during special events where alcohol may be served.
Be prepared if your loved one does relapse. Understand that recovery is a journey and not necessarily a one-time goal.
When living with someone who has AUD, it’s important to understand that you didn’t cause the addiction. Therefore, you can’t fix it on your own, either.
AUD is treatable and generally requires professional help. But what you cando is support your loved one in their recovery. And above all else, take steps to keep you and the rest of your household safe and healthy.
Kristeen Cherney is a freelance writer and PhD candidate who specializes in covering topics related to mental disabilities, women's health, skin health, diabetes, thyroid disease, asthma, and allergies. She’s also currently working on her dissertation, which explores intersections of disability studies and literacy studies. When she's not researching or writing, Cherney enjoys getting outdoors as much as possible. She also practices yoga and kick-boxing.