How to Help an Alcoholic

May 1, 2024

Discover how to help an alcoholic journey towards recovery. Support, treatment options, and resources explored.

Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder

Before we delve into how to help an alcoholic, it is crucial to first understand what Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is, how it's diagnosed, and what signs and symptoms may indicate its presence.

Definition and Diagnosis

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is a medical condition diagnosed when a patient's drinking causes distress or harm. This condition can range from mild to severe. Doctors diagnose AUD when a patient answers "yes" to two or more specific questions related to their drinking habits.

Factors such as genetics, psychological conditions, social circumstances, and environmental influences can impact how drinking alcohol affects one's body and behavior. Certain theories suggest that for specific individuals, drinking can have a different and more potent impact, leading to AUD.

Signs and Symptoms

Recognizing the signs of AUD is a critical step in helping someone struggling with this disorder. These signs may include physical changes, such as bloodshot eyes, alcohol on their breath, or an unsteady gait. Behavioral changes like increased anger, moodiness, decreased interest in activities, or being secretive about alcohol use are also common indicators.

Over time, excessive alcohol consumption may alter the normal function of your brain areas associated with pleasure, judgment, and behavioral control. This may result in an alcohol craving to try to restore good feelings or reduce negative ones [2].

According to the NIAAA, more than 14 million adults ages 18 and older have AUD, and 1 in 10 children live in a home with a parent who has a drinking problem.

Understanding AUD's definition, diagnosis, signs, and symptoms lays a foundation for learning how to help an alcoholic. The following sections will provide guidance on this important and compassionate endeavor.

Helping Someone with Alcohol Misuse

Supporting a loved one struggling with alcohol misuse can be a challenging and emotional journey. However, with the right approach, it is possible to help someone on the path to recovery. This section will cover how to start a conversation about alcohol misuse, offer support, and make a recovery plan together.

Conversation Starters

The first step to helping someone with alcohol misuse is to initiate a conversation. This conversation should be planned, kept positive, and precise about the concerns related to alcohol use. It's essential to approach the individual when they are sober and in a calm environment. You should express your worries from a place of love and concern, making sure not to blame or criticize [4].

Identifying and discussing signs of an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) can also be helpful. These may include physical changes such as bloodshot eyes, alcohol on their breath, unsteady gait, and behavioral changes like anger, moodiness, decreased interest in activities, or being secretive about alcohol use.

Offering Support

Providing support to someone with alcohol misuse can be multifaceted. It involves understanding the person's struggles, being patient, and maintaining open communication. Encouraging them to seek professional help and offering to accompany them to treatment or counseling sessions can also be beneficial.

Importantly, while supporting a loved one with alcohol misuse, it's crucial not to neglect your own needs. Engaging in self-care and seeking support for yourself through resources or therapy can help manage the emotional toll. Support groups like Al-Anon can offer valuable insights and coping strategies [3].

Making a Plan Together

Creating a recovery plan together can provide the individual with a clear path towards overcoming alcohol misuse. This plan should include treatment options, steps to reduce alcohol intake, and strategies to handle potential triggers.

When discussing treatment options, it's vital to highlight the importance of early intervention and accessibility to treatment for individuals with an AUD [3]. Participating in your loved one's treatment, staying involved, and offering family support are essential components of the recovery process for alcohol use disorders. Involvement may include family therapy, participating in mutual support group meetings, and assisting with the treatment plan.

In conclusion, while helping someone with alcohol misuse can be challenging, effective conversation, active support, and a joint recovery plan can be instrumental in guiding a loved one toward recovery.

Treatment Options for Alcohol Use Disorder

When it comes to helping an alcoholic, understanding the various treatment options available is crucial. This can range from various levels of care, to different therapy approaches, and even medication options.

Levels of Care

The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines four basic levels of care or intensity for alcohol treatment. These are tailored to individual needs based on a complete assessment of a person's alcohol problems and complications. Lower intensity outpatient care options are available, including building a custom care team, utilizing telehealth services for phone or video sessions, and accessing eHealth tools that have shown potential to help individuals overcome alcohol problems.

Telehealth services for talk therapy or medical care have increased in accessibility and acceptance, with insurance companies and Medicaid covering these services in many states. This has opened up access to accredited, all-telehealth alcohol treatment programs, especially beneficial for individuals in locations with few addiction health professionals [5].

Evidence-Based Approaches

It's crucial to seek evidence-based approaches in alcohol treatment. These are backed by large, well-designed studies that demonstrate their effectiveness. In addition to these therapeutic approaches, mutual support groups can be beneficial, and exploring different groups is recommended to find the right fit.

Medications and Counseling

There are three medications currently approved in the United States to help people stop or reduce their drinking and prevent relapse. These are Naltrexone, Acamprosate, and Disulfiram.

Behavioral treatments are aimed at changing drinking behavior through counseling. These therapies have been supported by studies showing their benefits. They can be provided by a health professional in one-on-one sessions or in a group therapy setting.

Understanding these treatment options can provide a solid foundation for supporting a person struggling with alcohol misuse. It's important to remember that each person's journey to recovery is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. Therefore, it's essential to explore all available options and seek professional advice when considering treatment plans.

Seeking Professional Help

When someone is struggling with alcohol use disorder (AUD), seeking professional help can be a critical step towards recovery. This process usually involves contacting healthcare providers, consulting addiction specialists and treatment facilities, and potentially joining mutual-support groups.

Contacting Healthcare Providers

If you or a loved one is grappling with alcohol misuse, reaching out to a healthcare provider is a recommended first step. Primary care and mental health practitioners can provide initial assessments, guidance, and referrals for more specialized care. If your drinking is causing problems or concerning to you or your family, initiating a conversation with your healthcare provider can be a valuable starting point.

Denial can be a common barrier in recognizing the need for help. It's crucial to heed the concerns of relatives, friends, or co-workers regarding your drinking habits and consider seeking help. Engaging in conversation with someone who has had a drinking problem but has stopped can also provide perspective and encouragement.

Addiction Specialists and Treatment Facilities

Addiction specialists and treatment facilities offer a higher level of care, including comprehensive treatment plans tailored to the individual's needs. These professionals have extensive training and experience in managing AUD and can provide a range of services, from detoxification to therapy and aftercare.

Involving loved ones in the treatment process can be beneficial. Family support is often a crucial component of recovery. This involvement may include participating in family therapy, assisting with the treatment plan, and staying engaged throughout the recovery process.

Mutual-Support Groups

Mutual-support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) provide a supportive community for individuals dealing with AUD. These groups offer a platform to share experiences, gain insights, and draw strength from others who are also on the path to recovery.

For those providing support to someone with AUD, groups such as Al-Anon can provide invaluable resources. These platforms can help you learn the importance of setting healthy boundaries and remind you that you're not alone in your journey.

In conclusion, seeking professional help is a vital step in addressing alcohol misuse. Whether it's through contacting healthcare providers, consulting addiction specialists, or joining mutual-support groups, these resources can provide a lifeline of hope to those navigating the road to recovery.

Resources for Alcohol Use Assistance

Assisting someone struggling with alcohol use disorder involves providing them with the right resources. This can take the form of helplines, text services, harm reduction centers, and culturally sensitive programs designed for specific communities.

Helplines and Text Services

Helplines and text services are instrumental in providing immediate, confidential support to individuals experiencing substance misuse. In 2020, SAMHSA's National Helpline received 833,598 calls, marking a 27 percent increase from the 2019 total of 656,953 calls. They provide 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

In Canada, if you or someone you know needs help with substance use, including overdose prevention, tobacco cessation, or chronic pain, there are services available at any time. This includes a toll-free national helpline for substance use assistance at 1-800-668-6868 and text services available by texting 686868.

Harm Reduction Centers

Harm reduction centers have been established to support individuals grappling with substance use. These centers provide a range of services to reduce the negative impact of substance use and improve public safety. In Canada, various harm reduction centers offer services for individuals struggling with substance use, providing locations and contact information to bridge the gap and provide support.

Indigenous-Specific Programs

Recognizing the need for culturally sensitive resources, programs have been developed specifically for Indigenous peoples struggling with substance misuse. In Canada, Indigenous peoples can access resources for help through programs like the National Native Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program and the National Youth Solvent Abuse Program. These programs offer culturally appropriate prevention, intervention, and aftercare and follow-up services that respect the unique needs of Indigenous communities.

Providing the right resources is an integral part of helping an individual with alcohol use disorder. Whether through helplines, harm reduction centers or culturally specific programs, the goal is to offer a lifeline of hope and support on their road to recovery.

Lifestyle Changes in Recovery

During the recovery process, lifestyle changes can have a profound impact on a person's journey to sobriety. These changes can help individuals struggling with alcohol use disorder to establish and maintain healthier habits. In this section, we will discuss the importance of maintaining a balanced diet, engaging in regular exercise, and ensuring quality sleep.

Balanced Diet

A crucial aspect of the recovery process is nourishing the body with a well-balanced diet. Proper nutrition replenishes the body with essential vitamins and minerals, which can be depleted due to alcohol misuse. A well-balanced diet can also aid in improving sleep patterns and overall well-being. Consuming a variety of nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats can help restore physical health and support recovery progress.

Regular Exercise

Physical activity or regular exercise plays a significant role in maintaining health during recovery. Regular exercise can reduce the risk of various health issues, including cancer, and contribute to overall wellness. Furthermore, physical activity promotes the release of endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin, often referred to as "happy chemicals." These chemicals can boost mood, reduce stress, and contribute to a more positive outlook, which can be especially beneficial during the recovery journey [7].

Quality Sleep

Lastly, quality sleep is essential for healing and hormonal balance. It enables the body to rest and heal, improves clarity of thought, and supports goal achievement. Establishing a regular sleep routine can help regulate the body's internal clock and promote better sleep. This can be accomplished by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, avoiding caffeine and electronics before bed, and creating a restful environment for sleep.

These lifestyle changes, along with professional treatment, can significantly enhance the recovery process for individuals struggling with alcohol use disorder. They serve as vital components of a comprehensive approach to recovery and can help individuals establish healthier habits, improve their physical health, and maintain sobriety.