Supporting Your Loved One With Alcohol Use Disorder - Handel Behavioral Health
Mental Health Blog

Supporting Your Loved One With Alcohol Use Disorder

May 5, 2023

An orange desert like landscape with a giant beer bottle laying on its side. There is a stream of beer flowing. A woman is trying to pull a man up by the arm from the stream in which he has fallen or gotten into. The man and woman are light purple in color and smaller than the beer bottle.

Amy Mauro

You suspect that your loved one’s drinking habits are negatively impacting their life. 

Perhaps they’ve neglected obligations at work, they’re withdrawn from sober activities, they’re drinking to avoid feelings of depression, and they continue to drink despite harming their relationships. 

You might be thinking, I’d love to help, but I don’t know much about addiction.

Or, I want to intervene but I don’t want to strain our relationship. 

Despite the fact that more than 140,000 people die from excessive alcohol use in the United States each year, and one in seven Americans reports experiencing a substance use disorder, alcohol dependence and addiction aren’t often openly discussed. 

“We live in a culture where alcohol consumption is glorified. Drinking takes center stage in so many special activities that we’re often unaware of when it becomes problematic.”

Kelly-Corrao-Fisher, LMHC with HBH 

Alcohol Use Disorder and Alcoholism: What’s the Difference?

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, and health consequences.”

It encompasses the conditions that people sometimes refer to as alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, alcohol addiction, and alcoholism.

Alcoholism is the non-medical term used to describe someone with an alcohol problem to varying degrees.

Alcohol use disorder is the medical term used by professionals. They will refer to the symptoms listed in the DSM-5 to determine whether you have a mild, moderate, or severe AUD.

The Dichotomy of Alcohol Use

Since alcohol’s effects can vary depending on the individual, it can be difficult to tell when a loved one’s drinking habits have become abusive. 

There’s no specific amount that indicates when someone has an alcohol use disorder (AUD). It depends on how your loved one’s alcohol consumption affects their life. 

Your loved one may have a drinking problem if they: 

  • Regularly neglect their responsibilities at home, work, or school due to drinking or recovering from drinking
  • Often drink more than they intended to or binge drink: consuming an excessive amount of alcohol in a short period of time 
  • Lie about or try to hide how much they’re drinking
  • Withdrawn from previously enjoyable activities in an effort to drink 
  • Often can’t remember what they did or said when drinking
  • Use alcohol to self-medicate for intense emotions and mental health challenges
  • Continue to drink despite the negative consequences 

Alcohol use disorder does not discriminate: anyone can develop an abusive relationship with alcohol. With proper evidence-based treatment, including behavioral therapies, support groups, treatment and recovery centers, and/or medications, people with AUD can achieve and maintain recovery.

Alcohol Awareness Month

In honor of Alcohol Awareness Month this April, we sat down with three of our clinicians to learn more about alcohol use disorder, and how to support a loved one struggling with or in recovery from AUD. 

Here are five ways that you can make a difference in your loved one’s life:

1. Educating Yourself About The Disease of Addiction

It’s natural to feel frustrated, disappointed, or confused when your loved one is actively doing something that’s destructive to their health. 

Before taking any concrete steps to intervene, Kelly-Corrao-Fisher, LMHC with HBH suggests educating yourself on alcohol use, dependency, addiction, and AUD. 

Connect with a mental health professional trained in substance use disorders to discuss your loved one’s alcohol abuse, how to support your loved one, and hope to preserve your wellbeing throughout. 

You can also find support through connecting with peers who share similar experiences with AUD and addiction in their family. Al-Anon, Alateen, or Families Anonymous meetings can be excellent resources for loved one’s to learn, discuss, and cope with the challenges surrounding addiction.

2. Staging an Intervention

To approach your loved one about their unhealthy drinking habits, Larry Brown, LMHC suggests staging an intervention. 

An intervention typically involves friends and family members who have been affected by, and concerned about their loved one’s substance use. 

Choose a non-threatening time and place to hold the intervention. Set aside at least an hour or two without distractions.

Discuss how your loved one’s drinking has affected you, as the person might be unaware of their actions. Family members and close friends can take turns reflecting on instances where your loved one’s drinking has negatively affected their relationship. 

Approach the conversation from an attitude of wanting to help your loved one, rather than punishing or blaming them for their behavior.

Focus on the positive outcomes of treatment and recovery, but remember that your loved one won’t necessarily be receptive to change. You can suggest they seek help, but you can’t force someone to do something they’re not willing to do.

3. Approaching the Conversation

When approaching your loved one about their drinking, it’s natural to feel worried that they’ll get defensive or deny that they have a problem. 

Regardless, your loved one’s drinking isn’t going to get better on its own. It’s better to express your concerns than witness their drinking get worse. 

Cari Chapderlane-Cox, LICSW and Clinical Supervisor with HBH suggests planning your conversation ahead of time and addressing your concerns with care. 

Choose a time when your loved one is not drinking and you’re both calm.  

Cari says to express your concerns with empathy and open-mindedness. Stay clear and focused throughout the conversation. Tell your loved one about the concerns you have regarding their drinking and its effects on your relationship. 

Remember to use “I” statements that express your feelings and concerns and the ways that you’re impacted by your loved one’s drinking. 

You can say, “I’m concerned about your drinking because I’ve noticed you’ve been missing work.” Or, “It worries me when you’re out drinking and you don’t come home.”Avoid using “hot statements,” like addict or alcoholic in the conversation. Instead, focus on your loved one and how their actions have affected your relationship.

4. Taking Care of Yourself

When someone you love and care about is struggling with alcohol use disorder and addiction, it can be difficult to focus on yourself. But when loved ones and friends in caregiver roles don’t practice self-care, they can easily experience compassion fatigue and burnout. 

Cari Chapderlane-Cox suggests retaining your physical and mental health through this process by focusing on self-care. 

Prioritize the aspects of your physical health that can be damaged by stress by: 

  • Getting adequate sleep 
  • Eating healthy food
  • Staying physically active

Take care of your mental health by staying in touch with personal joy: 

  • Practice relaxation exercises 
  • Spend time outside in nature
  • Play with your children 
  • Spend time with your friends 
  • Engage in hobbies that bring you joy
  • Establish healthy boundaries with your loved one
  • Seek support from a mental health professional

5. Preparing for the Road to Recovery

As your loved one embarks on the road to recovery, it’s important to remember that recovery from AUD is a lifelong journey. It takes patience, dedication, and strength to maintain a sober lifestyle. It can also take a lifetime for the behaviors and patterns associated with addiction to come to the surface, and change. 

Kelly Corrao-Fisher says to be an active participant in your loved one’s efforts to maintain sobriety.

Everyone takes a unique approach to recovery, and every family system functions differently, so ask your loved one what type of support they need. You might: 

  • Ask to accompany your loved one in an AA meeting or support group
  • Refrain from keeping alcohol in your home
  • Avoid serving alcohol at family gatherings
  • Suggest shared activities and hobbies that don’t involve alcohol

Larry Brown adds that it’s important to be aware of the reality of relapse. Addiction is a chronic disease, making relapse a normal part of recovery. Steps can be taken to avoid relapse, but it’s important to know that relapse is not a sign of lost cause for your loved one.

If your loved one does start drinking again, try to do your best to help your loved one return to treatment quickly. And most importantly, take care of your mental health throughout.

The Take-Away

Supporting a loved one who struggles with AUD can be painful, but there are ways to help without neglecting your mental health and wellbeing. 

Remember that you are not alone in your struggle. Our team of trained mental health professionals operating out of our offices in Amherst, Franklin, West Springfield, Wilbraham and online across the state of Massachusetts are here to support you and your loved one. 

To schedule an appointment with one of our mental health professionals, contact us today at (413) 343-4357.

About The Author

Nettie Hoagland Headshot

Nettie Hoagland is a writer with experience in local news reporting, nonprofit communications, and community development. She earned her bachelor of arts degree in Media Studies, Journalism, and Digital Arts from Saint Michael’s College in Vermont. Nettie believes in the healing power of the arts to create connection and community. She is passionate about using writing as an instrument for personal and social growth in the field of mental health. She is currently based in Brooklyn, NY.

Larry Brown, LMHC Headshot

Larry has worked as a therapist for over thirty years. His therapeutic goal is, and has always been, to create a comfortable experience that clients feel is beneficial and worth returning to. His approach is tailored to the specific needs of each individual rather than a one-size-fits-all model.

Cari Chapderlane-Cox Headshot

Cari has worked in school social work, community mental health outreach, and mild/intensive therapeutic programming. She has assisted individuals experiencing a wide range of behavioral health symptoms, including but not limited to, processing through severe and complex behaviors related to trauma to dealing with adjustment issues related to life stage transitions. More About Author →

Kelly  Corrao-Fisher Headshot

Kelly received her graduate degree from Westfield State University with her masters in Psychology focusing in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. She has been in the counseling field for over 15 years working with adolescents and adults in a variety of settings ranging from residential, collegiate, inpatient, outpatient and crisis. More About Author →