In many ways, alcohol has become a significant part of modern western society. It’s something we associate with celebration, socialising and relaxation. It’s something many of us invest a lot of time and money in and for many, apart from the odd hangover, it can be enjoyed sensibly without too much harm. However, alcohol can lead to a much darker, destructive and even life-threatening place for some of the people we care about, our local community and even ourselves.
I have seen first-hand from my own personal and professional experience how alcohol misuse can dismantle people’s lives, and I have also seen the life changing impact support and effective recovery services can have on bringing these pieces back together.
If you are worried that alcohol has started to have a detrimental effect on someone you care about, below are some of the signs to look out for in someone who has a problem with alcohol:
- Continually neglecting their responsibilities at home, work, or school because of their drinking. For example, poor work performance, failing exams, neglecting their families, or being absent for commitments because they are hung over.
- Continuing to drink alcohol in situations where it could be physically dangerous to do so. For example, drink driving, operating machinery while intoxicated, or mixing alcohol with prescription medication against medical advice.
- Their drinking leads to legal problems. For example, getting arrested for driving under the influence or for drunk and disorderly conduct. Becoming abusive or hurting their loved ones.
- Not changing their drinking behaviour even though their alcohol use is causing problems in your relationships. For example, fighting with their family because they dislike how they act when the person is intoxicated.
- Using alcohol as a way to relax or de-stress. Drinking problems can start when people use alcohol to self-medicate from stress, anxiety and depression. For example, getting drunk after a very stressful day at work or getting drunk to deal with a problem in their relationship.
It doesn’t happen in all cases, but the above problem drinking patterns can lead onto alcoholism or alcohol dependence. Alcoholism is the most serve form of problem drinking as in addition to the above signs the individual has become physically dependant on alcohol.
The two major signs of alcohol dependence are:
- Increased tolerance of alcohol – having to drink increased amounts to reach the same level of affect previously felt, and being able to drink more than others without becoming drunk.
- Withdrawing from alcohol – drinking to relieve withdrawal symptoms which could include shakes, anxiety and depression, sweating, insomnia, nausea, headaches and loss of appetite.
In severe cases, withdrawal from alcohol can also involve hallucinations, confusion, seizures, fever, and agitation. These symptoms can be dangerous and it’s important for individuals to be encouraged not to stop their alcohol intake suddenly and to seek medical support to reduce their drinking safely.
If you believe some of these signs are present in a person you care about, it’s important to follow this list of don’ts to avoid isolating and pushing the person away:
- Don’t attempt to punish, threaten, bribe, or preach.
- Don’t try to be a martyr. Avoid emotional appeals that may only increase feelings of guilt and the compulsion to drink or use other drugs.
- Don’t cover up or make excuses for the alcoholic or problem drinker or shield them from the realistic consequences of their behaviour.
- Don’t take over their responsibilities, leaving them with no sense of importance or dignity.
- Don’t hide or dump bottles, throw out drugs, or shelter them from situations where alcohol is present.
- Don’t argue with the person when they are impaired.
- Don’t try to drink along with the problem drinker.
- Above all, don’t feel guilty or responsible for another’s behaviour.
*Source: National Clearinghouse for Alcohol & Drug Information
The most important thing you can do, is to be present and ready to listen to the individual when they are ready to talk. Provide them with information about the support systems available to them in their local community, but ultimately it will be their decision whether they choose to engage with those services or not. Denial can be one the biggest barriers in people seeking support for alcohol misuse and could involve the individual underestimating how much they drink, downplaying the negative consequences and blaming their drinking on others.
A great first step is it support the individual to make an appointment with their GP to discuss their drinking levels and explore options for rehabilitation and counselling supports. Local Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), other community groups and alcohol support lines are another great avenue for gaining the support needed for recovery.
For any significant change to be permanent, the person involved needs to be motivated to change for themselves, not just to please others. It may be a long hard road before the person you care about is ready to meet you half way, and sometimes all you can do is let them know you will be there for them when they are ready to make a change. In the meantime, you must focus on looking after yourself and ensuring your life keeps moving forward.
If someone you know is experiencing challenges with their alcohol consumption, you can refer them to the AA Australia hotline on 1300 222 222 or contact one of our counsellors on 1300 796 640 who would be more than happy to assist you or a loved one.