How to help an alcoholic or addict loved one, friend, or family member is one of the most baffling and frustrating questions on the planet. Almost all of us has asked it at one time or another? Do you know someone who struggles with a substance or alcohol use disorder? Or a behavior use disorder? We know you do.

You may even be suffering yourself with a behavior that’s out of control. Addiction which is a disease of brain reward is actually part of the human condition and is not a reason for shame.

The Coronavirus Pandemic has increased alcohol use. Drinking more and more is a common reaction to anxiety, boredom, and isolation

We need to lift the stigma from these terms in this article’s title.  The Covid Pandemic is a perfect example of how our habits can change with stress and trauma. Did you know there are are stages of alcoholism and stages of recovery, too.

Before we leap to how to help an alcoholic, we need to talk terms

Addiction terminology is a sore subject these days. Many are offended by the word “Alcoholic.”  The official term these days is alcohol use disorder, AUD. So when we talk about addiction for any behavior, we’re talking about the later stages of use,  and it can be confusing to loved ones and family members, and even users themselves, how far down the slippery slope of addiction they really are. How to help is a complicated question to which everyone wants the answer.

Let’s Look At This Question As A Series Of 4 Pointers

  1. What is the age of your alcoholic? What is the age of your alcoholic? If a minor, you have options for  active rehabilitation services and treatment that you can “impress” (read “force”) on your youngster. I use the term youngster as many alcoholics start very young; reference Drew Barrymore.
  2. Why is this person drinking? Did they see others in their home and environment drinking? Did/does it look “cool” or the in-thing to do? Is it a family tradition?  Are they ill, depressed, in chronic pain or otherwise having issues in life that they trying to get away from? The answers here may help direct you towards treatment options and understanding of the person and how to further help them. Many soldiers (current and previous) suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and alcohol has usually been their primary way to dull the brain and keep the demons at bay.
  3. You have to take care of yourself in order to be a reliable help to your alcoholic. Use Al-anon or any of the many resources and self-help groups that are available.
  4. In the practice of medicine we have a saying that goes something like this: the patient is the one with the problem, they came to us for help. What that means is that you cannot take on their problem. Don’t become an enabler or co-dependent; that ultimately will not help them but could harm you.

Alcoholism Is One Of Many Specific Addictions.

The concerns and treatment for alcohol ARE basically the same as for any addiction. It takes a village to raise a child; similarly it takes a village to treat an active substance user. The village here consists of family, loved one, community treatment and support for the addict and his/her loved ones, and global understanding and support. In the end, each individual must take charge of his/her own survival because no one can help substance users unless they want the help. Consider the saying “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink”.


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Gail Dudley, D.O.
For more than twenty years Gail Dudley had a busy family practice with a hospital and nursing home component. Gail also obtained a MHA (Masters of Healthcare Administration) and completed a one-year health policy fellowship. Dr. Gail has worked in quality assurance and utilization review, hospice practice, and now works full time for a company that has contracts with Medicare and Medicaid to evaluate fraud, waste and abuse in the medical world. Gail describes herself as “a child from an abused childhood who ultimately decided to get ahead in life rather than remain a victim.” She became “a classic over achiever to make up for the losses and pain that accompany an abusive childhood as the daughter of an alcoholic.” The ex wife of an alcoholic and the mother of a son who has been struggling substance use since the age of 12, Gail is deeply familiar with the family disease of addiction. She is also the mother of a high achieving daughter. Gail is delighted to add her voice to Reach Out Recovery both as a medical professional and a mother who has experienced addiction from every aspect. "As someone surrounded on all sides (personal and professional) by addiction issues, I always try to help whenever and wherever I can."

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