Lorinda Strang, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Orchard Recovery Center provides suggestions on how to support a loved one struggling with alcohol use. If you, or someone you care about, is struggling with alcohol consumption, Orchard Recovery Center can help.
What causes alcohol addiction?
A question that we are frequently asked at the Orchard is, “What causes alcoholism?” – and the truth is that there is no single cause. More importantly, it is defined by the American Society of Addiction Medicine as a primary, chronic, progressive, brain disease, which when left untreated, can be fatal. The good news is that it is a very treatable disease, and recovery is possible.
Addiction is a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences. People with addiction use substances or engage in behaviors that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences. Prevention efforts and treatment approaches for addiction are generally as successful as those for other chronic diseases.
– ASAM Board of Directors
The first step is to recognize that there is a problem – but before that, there are signs and symptoms that you can keep an eye out for. It is also important to keep in mind that the signs and symptoms will be different depending on the progression of alcohol use.
Am I drinking too much?
If you have ever wondered, or have been told by others, that you may be drinking too much, here are some questions you might ask yourself:
- Are you having a lack of control when you are drinking?
- Do you have an obsession to drink (or use drugs)?
- Are you having adverse consequences, repeatedly?
- Are you making yourself promises that you can’t keep?
For a person who suspects they may be struggling with alcohol use, those are often some of the first signs: when they are trying to control their drinking, and no matter what promises they make, or how they try to shift their behaviour, they still end up over-drinking and having negative consequences. If you find yourself asking these questions of yourself, those are early warning signs that you might have a problem.
There are a lot of myths around “When is a person an alcoholic?”
Most people think of an alcoholic as a daily drinker – someone who has to wake up and have that first drink to steady their nerves or to feel normal, and that is actually late stage alcoholism. Long before that occurs, other signs of an alcohol use disorder are binge drinking, overuse of alcohol, black outs, or using alcohol to cope with emotions.
Start thinking about your intention when you go out to drink.
If you find yourself asking those questions above, then see if you can pull yourself back. If you can, do. And if you can’t, then you need to ask for help – and the sooner you ask for help, the better.
High Functioning Alcoholics
There is still a lot of stigma around the word ‘alcoholic’ – and as with so many other mental health issues, one of the goals we strive for is to erase the stigma of what it means to be alcoholic or an addict.
We often picture people who have lost their jobs or their families – but most of the people who we see at the Orchard are still working, attending school, and their families are intact, . They may have started to lose things (like trust, accountability, or respect); everything may be hanging by a thread and about to come crashing down, but it hasn’t yet. The elevator doesn’t have to go all the way to the basement; you can get off whenever you want, without having to hit rock bottom.
What do I do if I have a loved one who is drinking too much?
It’s not easy to know how to best approach a friend, family member, or coworker who may be struggling with their alcohol consumption, but here are a few ideas about how to frame your conversation.
Approach them carefully, and from the heart. It’s really important to keep in mind that no one chooses to become an alcoholic or an addict. Often, they will be left with thoughts like, “This isn’t fair. Why is this happening to me? How come I can’t drink normally, like everyone else?” So approach them with love, compassion, and understanding.
Other phrases to keep in mind when approaching this hard conversation:
“Learn to listen, Listen to learn.”
“Say what you mean, and don’t say it mean.”
And don’t forget that even if you are the one who is trying to help, that you can ask for help for yourself. As their loved one, you may actually not be the right person to talk to them about the way their alcohol or drug use has affected those around them.
Seek help for yourself
You are going to need strength and support to have these conversations, so having outside help can be really beneficial. Groups such as Al-Anon and Co-Dependents Anonymous offer mutual support meetings all around the world.
Al-Anon members are people, just like you, who are worried about someone with a drinking problem.
Co-Dependents Anonymous is a twelve-step program for people who share a common desire to develop functional and healthy relationships.
Family Programs at Orchard Recovery Center are included in the cost of our Primary Care Program.
By Lorinda Strang, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Orchard Recovery Center