How to Cope While Loving an Alcoholic
Photo by Alex Green
Being in a relationship takes work no matter what the circumstances, and loving an alcoholic adds an entirely different set of challenges to the equation. There are mental health risks for both partners, subtle and overt physical scares, and the need to address the substance use disorder head-on.
This can be exhausting, draining, and terrifying for many people in similar situations; you are not alone. If you or one of your family members is in a relationship with someone who suffers from alcohol use disorder, here are some ways you can cope with it personally while simultaneously encouraging recovery for you and your partner.
Short Term Plans for Dealing with an Alcoholic You Love
The path of inaction for both the family or partner and the one with an alcohol use disorder is not a sustainable path. When problems stemming from alcohol use are present it should be considered a serious disease or medical condition that requires both alcohol users and those affected to seek treatment. We understand it often takes great resolve to admit or accept the problem, address your partner, seek help for yourself, and to intervene upon the alcohol user and their destructive behaviors. There are most likely components of your life that are negatively affected by your partner’s substance abuse, and we understand the need to be able to address them effectively.
With the health of you, your partner, and your relationship in mind, we advise these short-term solutions and coping mechanisms:
- Don’t blame yourself: It is commonplace to wonder if this is your fault or if you have been complicit in letting the addiction manifest. Codependency and enabling are detrimental things that a partner can be a part of, and these are rarely done on purpose or with premeditated malice. Please try to recognize that addiction is not a matter of pointing fingers. The most effective path is seeking professional help and not trying to correct or diagnose the problem yourself or with the substance user.
- Remain Hopeful: In this moment, chances are far greater that the partner or family is in a better position to make effective decisions with professional guidance than the substance user. The substance user in their flooded state and hijacked mind is most often the least qualified to lead the group towards a solution. With that in mind, pulling together as a group and realizing addiction is a medical condition that can be treated, may bring hope to an otherwise hopeless situation. With an effective solution a substance user, their family or partner can lead fulfilling lives after effective treatment starts for both sides.
- Engage in self help groups and recovery resources for families: Being among others going through similar struggles and building new human connections can have a beneficial impact on your well being. If the substance user is not going to take the first step, those affected most certainly can. It is often said the substance user has to want help or hit bottom. Why aren’t families told the same thing? Why is it always about them? A family getting better can greatly increase the substance users opportunities to seek help as well. It will also strengthen a family’s abilities to do something different and become less afraid to confront the situation and intervene. Any positive steps you take for yourself can help your significant other with their recovery from an alcohol or substance use disorder. Daily routines, other relationships, work, eating well, sleeping enough, and exercise are often compromised in stressful situations. Unwell people are not always the most qualified to help other unwell people. The stronger and healthier you are, the greater the opportunity for you to help yourself and your loved one more effectively.
Most coping skills, whether effective or maladaptive are acquired and learned over time. Some are instinctive and learned behaviors from our family of origin. The substance or alcohol user equally does a good job of teaching their loved ones how to behave in order to provide them continued comfort. They are good at flipping the script, having others believe they are victims, and somehow having many questioning if this is all their fault for the substance or alcohol users struggles. Through intervention, counseling, therapy, and support groups you can become well and so can they. An important question to ask when faced with a decision is, is what I am about to do going to provide them comfort or is it going to hold them accountable for their actions? A second consideration, if the decision is to provide them comfort, is to ask yourself why and what is providing them comfort doing for you?
Things to Consider not doing in a Relationship With an Alcoholic
- Enable: Enabling can often begin as what you perceive as being helpful to a person in need. If you are helping your partner out of bad situations caused by addiction, it is actually hurting you both long-term. Providing financial assistance, making excuses for them, and preventing them from facing real-life consequences are all common forms of enabling, and can prevent them from being held accountable. Most people do not fix problems they do not have. The more you enable, the less likely they see the need to change.
- Control: While the urge will be there to control or stop certain behaviors, this is ultimately detrimental. Your partner must be the catalyst for their own change, especially while avoiding compulsive behavior. Controlling behavior will make a partner feel trapped or reclusive and can exacerbate issues. The more you try and control them, the less control you will have. The sooner you learn to let go of believing you can control their behavior or substance use, the sooner you can start your own recovery to regain control over your own life.
- Make excuses: If you think about it, making excuses for them just provides an extension to their own dishonesty. Now you’re being dishonest for them. It is almost like they manipulated you to be their spokesperson to cosign their unhealthy lifestyle. Don’t make excuses for your partner or their behavior. This makes you unhealthy and it does not help them. What is making excuses for them doing for you and why the need for you to avoid the conversation with others? It is never suggested you put their life out there for the world to hear and see nor is it suggested you proactively harm them by telling others their business. The goal is to not allow you to become sick with living a lie and helping them by being accountable for their actions. In order to move through the stages of change the substance user has to recognize a need for change. Making excuses and covering for them prevents them from this. If you make excuses for their behavioral lapses (missing work or social functions, illnesses, etc.), it is reinforcing that their behaviors are acceptable.
- Create unrealistic expectations: It is not your job to fix, cure, or control a person who has problems related to alcohol use. Believing if they just get a job, pay off their bills, move to a new location or start exercising and this will all go away can be an unrealistic expectation. Most people with a substance or alcohol use disorder classified as moderate or severe will not be successful with these methods in and of themselves. Addressing the symptoms and not the behavior often fails miserably. Believing that addressing the symptoms is a viable solution can be an unrealistic expectation for family, partner, and substance or alcohol users. Professional help is recommended by way of support groups, therapy, counseling, and intervention. Most of the resentments you currently have are likely due to the expectations you set that were not met by your loved one or yourself.
Actions You Should Consider
- Seek professional help: There are many forms of professional help for families and partners with a loved one affected by alcohol. Having a consultation with a professional drug and alcohol interventionist is a first step towards creating a plan for you and your family members or partner’s recovery from alcohol addiction. Intervention is highly effective and can provide an accurate assessment on the severity of the alcohol problem while addressing the effect on the family system. Intervention can also address underlying conditions and factors that play a part in the addiction, and determine the appropriate level of care for their treatment plan. Other considerations such as family recovery coaching, continued support, relapse prevention and warning signs are also discussed.
- Stage an intervention: In staging an intervention you are providing you and your family closure knowing that you did all you could to help yourself and your loved one. Often people believe the intervention is an isolated event that involves talking a substance or alcohol user into treatment. Although a small part of the process, an intervention is a process that involves family to increase the opportunity your loved one is held accountable and allowed a greater opportunity for success. If the addiction only affected the person using alcohol or drugs, then the method of talking them into treatment could be an effective approach. For those who understand addiction and what it does to a family system also understand that to neglect the family would be negligent on the part of any professional who chooses only to focus on the substance or alcohol user. Interventions always occur in crisis situations and come in various forms. When a family takes the lead to stage an intervention on their terms, they avoid further heartache for themselves and their loved one. They are helping their loved one to avoid other methods of intervention that happen beyond one’s control.
- Hold them accountable: To see a need for change requires one to see things that need to be changed. When a substance user is not held accountable for his or her actions they become entitled and see far less of a problem. Nobody is suggesting you go out of your way to create consequences for the substance user. We are making a suggestion that if they decide to engage in risky behavior, then any consequences should become their responsibility and not yours. If they choose to continue using substances after a family has offered them an alternative solution, then any decisions they make thereafter should be addressed by them. The accountability they gain from this helps them see the need for change and helps them understand that their actions have consequences they are responsible for and not you. Until they are responsible for those consequences they may not feel the need to do something different.
Most people abusing alcohol in a relationship are not proactively trying to hurt themselves or their significant other. They are up against a medical condition that often requires intervention and treatment. Alcohol addiction is powerful and almost always requires a treatment plan formulated with a professional that is to be followed in order for the situation to improve. Fortunately, addiction recovery is available as are recovery resources. There is not a lack of resources to help those with an addiction and for those affected by the addiction. Unfortunately, there is often a lack of initiative to take advantage of the available resources. A professional intervention can start the healing process for all parties involved.
Intervention for an Alcoholic Loved One
At Family First Intervention, we address the substance users needs as well as those affected. Using evidence based treatment strategies and following ASAM criteria allows us to follow the science and the effective methods available. Our team of Intervention Counselors create treatment plans for the family and assist in the rehabilitation of the alcoholic. We understand from firsthand experience how significant a role the family plays in addiction. Our research shows that if only the substance user enters recovery and the family does not, the results are not as effective. When both sides enter recovery, the results are far more successful short and long term.
Reach out today to start a conversation about making your future better for you and your loved ones.