Alcohol, Abusive Drinking and Addiction
I'm back for a topic that is really important to me and an often related illness to homelessness: Addiction.
I have had contact to various people with a dangerous relationship to substances, especially alcohol. May it be in the clinical context while I was working in psychiatry or in my own social context: Drinking is omnipresent.
The reasons for people to have a drink range from just enjoying the taste over just drinking because everybody does onto decreasing their levels of anxiety by numbing their senses with booze. The motivations for alcohol consumption are probably as individual as humans themselves. There is also a German blogpost I wrote about substance addiction that you can check out here:https://www.bikeforbetter.com/post/über-substanzmittel-sucht
While I was researching for my project bikeforbetter, I became a lot more aware about the dangers of alcohol. I remember multiple patients struggling with alcoholism- sometimes it went as far as them being left with nothing.
And even though I can not put myself in their situation, I had to deal with alcoholism in my inner circle too. It is extremely frustrating and sad to see people close to you drowning in it. But I chose to actively deal with it instead of just watching them (and myself) drown.
So this is an article for you, the wife, boyfriend, daughter, colleague, father, sibling of someone who is drinking too much.
Is he or she really an alcoholic or am I overacting?
A common thought amongst people related to addiction patients is that they are probably just overexaggerating and the drinking behaviour of their loved one lies within the normal range.
Think about these questions when you find yourself in such a thought pattern:
Have I often been disappointed that we couldn't do nice activites together because my loved one was hungover?
Was I ashamed in front of others when my loved one was drunk and acted aggressively, offensive, inappropiate or lost control over his or her actions?
Did I ever get into financial problems because of my loved one's drinking behaviour?
Did I have to take over responsibilities (e.g. housework, picking the children up, going to meetings etc etc) because my loved one couldn't?
Did my loved one treat me unkind, rude or ignorant when he or she couldn't have a drink?
Have I showed up to parties or events on my own, even though my loved one was supposed to be with me?
Did I cancel events that I was looking forward to, because I had to take care of my (drunk or hungover) loved one?
These are just examples of hurtful behaviour that is fairly common amongst alcoholics. It doesn't have to mean that your loved one is an alcoholic, if you answered one or several questions with "yes". But they might have a difficult and even problematic relationship with alcohol consumption.
It is time to take your own needs more seriously and get some distance from the person. It is not their intention to hurt you, but they might be struggling with an abusive use of alcohol. "Before you can help others, you need to help yourself." It is such a basic phrase, but there is a lot of truth in it.
You are doing the first step by informing yourself and potentially seek out for help for YOU.
The person suffering from alcoholism needs help, that's for sure. But you are hurt, too. You might have put yourself second recently. That is okay from time to time. But if you are not strong and resilient, as well as content and happy with your life, you will not be a great help for other people.
Self-Help-Groups for people close to alcoholics exist. They do, because the addiction of your loved one affects your life as well. As you could see in the questions I posed before, your life probably did not take the direction you imagined for yourself recently. You are not living your best life, you might be suffering, and you are worthy of getting help.
We have to hold in mind is that we are not the right person to help close friends or family.
We are simply too close. Because we are hurt by their behaviour, we are extremely biased and not the professional help that they would need. We can help them get on their way to recovery, be there for them and show that we love and care for them.
But we can not do the main work. We have to leave that to therapists, groups for self-help and other professionals in that field.
Also, they might not want our help, because we are too close. They might not want to be seen in such an ugly or vulnerable state of being by someone they care about, too.
But what is the first step to confront your loved one?
To answer this question, I talked to Janita (you remember, the gorgeous woman I had the interview with?). She has been dealing with heroin addiction for years and managed to overcome it. She is now working with young people to raise awareness for homelessness, addiction and other mental health topics.
So what can you do to save someone from becoming an alcoholic?
The sobering answer is: You might not be able to change them. They might turn away from you.
It is sad but also important to be prepared- when confronting someone with your worries about them, they might not like it.
So be aware that
they might become angry at you
they might not react a lot at all
they might break contact after you confronted them
they might react well, but there is not gonna be any change in their behaviour
they might react well, but it is gonna be a rollercoaster of ups and downs.
Janita's advice is: Don't get your hopes up to high. Addiction is a very serious disease that has build up over time and won't be gone overnight. Cravings are very very intense and even if someone wants to change, it is often just not that easy.
But (at least in my opinion) it is important and the right decision to reach out anyways. Your worries usually don't come out of nowhere. The other option would be to let them drink their life away without ever having tried to help- and that doesn't sound okay to me either.
Pick a comfortable setting
without any pressure of time. Maybe cook up a nice cup of tea for them- a hectic setting will not improve the outcome in a situation like this. Just tell them that you're worried. Show them, that you care. They might not be aware that their use of alcohol could be any issue. So see, where they're at right now. Have they themselves thought about it before? Do they want to change their relationship to alcohol?
You can't force anything on other people and you can not control their behaviour. Even if their choice is not a free choice (Because addiction is a very captive disease), they have to make the steps into transition and you can't do it for them.
Maybe prepare a list with some institutions that offer professional help in your local community. Sentences like " If you want to, we can look for someone who helps you together" are probably good one's to start off with. Even if they won't take your advice at first, they have now in mind that there is someone they can come back to. Show them, that you are there for them whenever they change their mind.
And please please please: Don't judge. Nobody wishes to have a mental illness. They are NOT an alcoholic primarily, they are YOUR FRIEND. Remember that there is a person behind all those drinks that you love and care for.
You will do a great job and I encourage you to help yourself, confront your friend, spouse or relative and maybe even help others by doing so! Even if there is no problem at all and you might have made some false assumptions about their alcohol intake- prevention is better than cure!
I have looked around some exemplary institutions that can assisst you in overcoming addiction in Germany and in Ireland.
These institutions will help you search for local institutions when you are struggling with alcoholism yourself or a close to someone who is struggling with it in GERMANY
And here are some in Ireland (especially Galway, because that's where my friends live hehe):