Do You Have an Alcoholic in Your Life? How to Help an Alcoholic Achieve Sobriety
Drinking alcoholic beverages socially has been a part of many world cultures for thousands of years. Most people easily live without alcohol. However, others become addicted. There are numerous factors that contribute to alcoholism. Recognizing that a problem exists is the first step toward recovery.
Understanding and Identifying the Signs of Alcoholism
Genetics, upbringing, social environment and mental health issues may all play a role in the development of alcoholism. A family history of alcohol abuse or being of Native American descent are two examples where genetics could contribute to the possibility of becoming alcohol dependent. Having one or two alcoholic parents or continually socializing with heavy drinkers might lead to an eventual dependency problem. People suffering from untreated anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress, or other emotional or psychological illnesses may turn to alcohol to alleviate symptoms.
Addiction occurs when the body becomes dependent on alcohol in order to function. Drinking causes alterations in neuron chemical transmissions. Brain cells then cope with the problem by making the necessary chemical adjustments in an effort to return to a sense of normalcy. This action makes becoming inebriated more challenging. The individual must then drink more frequently or drink larger quantities before achieving the same effect. Developing a tolerance to alcohol is one of the first signs that a person is well on the way to becoming an alcoholic.
In the absence of alcohol, the chemical changes may eventually affect the entire body, which leads to withdrawal symptoms. Soon, the person must drink to feel normal and eliminate these effects. The brain’s memory centers also recall the people, places and other characteristics of the events surrounding drinking episodes. When a sober alcoholic encounters one of the environmental factors, a memory of a pleasant drinking-associated event surfaces and the individual experiences a craving for alcohol.
The many outward signs indicating that someone has a serious drinking problem include lying to friends or family members about the amount of alcohol consumed. The person may try hiding the habit, containers of alcohol, or the evidence of empty cans or bottles. An alcoholic is often ashamed of the problem and may lie or become defensive when confronted. The person may say he’ll only have one or two drinks, but consumes much more. This is a clear indication that he’s no longer in control.
In time, the need to drink may become all-consuming. Drinking becomes a necessity regardless of location, time of day or despite who might be around. The individual may shirk responsibilities at home, school or work by being too hungover to function or needing to drink throughout the day. Parents neglect the home or children. The addict may perform poorly in school or at work. Sick days begin accumulating. Unless alcohol is involved, spending time with loved ones or attending social gatherings becomes unimportant.
Being in denial, alcoholics think nothing of operating machinery or vehicles while under the influence. They may take prescription medications with alcohol. These behaviors often have catastrophic effects. Eventually, the alcoholic may flunk out of school or lose a job. The number of arguments in the home often increases. The individual might become violent. Legal problems may surface from an inability to pay bills. The person might get arrested because of alcohol-related behavior. Some alcoholics experience blackouts or memory loss.
An alcoholic may need a drink first thing in the morning to stave off visible shaking. Additional withdrawal symptoms include anxiety or depression, irritability, headache, nausea, vomiting and excessive sweating. Weight loss often occurs from loss of appetite. If without alcohol for a long period of time, the individual may suffer delirium tremens, which causes life-threatening cardiovascular symptoms, possible seizures, confusion and agitation.
Locating Treatment Programs for Alcoholism
If desiring to help an alcoholic, loved ones may stage an intervention. With the assistance of a trained intervention counselor, a designated group of people having close relationships with the individual plan a meeting and confront the loved one about the drinking problem. During the course of the event, an offer to get help is presented. Arrangements are typically made in advance. While various treatment programs and rehabilitation centers strive to cater to the needs of each client, not all are the same. There are a wide selection of topics that require consideration before determining an ideal option.
Cost may be a factor. Facilities range from low or no cost state-operated centers offering basic treatment to expensive, luxurious resort-like locations. Some health insurance policies help defray the cost. Certain facilities offer scholarship programs that help an alcoholic by providing varying degrees of financial assistance. A functional alcoholic may go to school or work while getting help. Some may have children requiring care. In these instances, outpatient programs may be suitable. Others may easily succumb to environmental triggers. In this case, a facility across the state or in another state might be preferable.
Make sure rehabilitation centers or programs under consideration have state licensing and accreditation. Check the credentials and experience of staff members. Some treatment centers have success rate statistics. However, outside agencies can also provide this information. Basic treatment typically involves 12-step programs, which means less professional help for an alcoholic. However, if an individual has an underlying emotional or mental issue, or broken family or spousal relationship, he may need a program that offers more extensive professional counseling and therapy.
People suffering from severe dependencies often require inpatient or residential care that may span anywhere from one month to 18 months. Most also need medically monitored detoxification processes. Only certain facilities offer this service. Many require that the client be admitted into a clinical or hospital setting to complete this phase of treatment. Treatment during this phase may or may not involve an extensive use of medications to alleviate or minimize withdrawal symptoms and psychological cravings. Some may offer expensive and controversial accelerated or rapid detox services. This procedure entails administering Naltrexone with or without anesthesia, which blocks the alcohol receptor sites in the brain and inhibits urges.
Outpatient treatment programs vary from requiring the alcoholic to attend meetings within 12-step programs one or more times weekly, to requiring several hours every day of intense one-on-one and group therapy sessions. Some programs and rehab centers are faith-based, while others cater to specific age groups or genders. Various facilities might also offer alternative therapies in the form of meditation, massage, acupuncture, yoga or other techniques designed to promote relaxation and positive mental health. Facilities additionally vary greatly concerning the types of amenities and activities provided.
12-step Programs and Relapse Prevention
Regardless of the type of initial treatment or facility an addict attends, help for an alcoholic is not complete without some type of relapse prevention program for ongoing support. These services are extremely important for increasing the likelihood of ongoing recovery and sobriety. There must be a comprehensive plan in place along with a continued commitment to follow the plan. Alcoholics must be honest about thoughts, activities or actions that might instigate a relapse. Counselors, loved ones, sponsors or 12-step programs often offer support and help in identifying possible signs that indicate temptations may take over and cause someone to falter.
Many different things can trigger a relapse. Sometimes, events causing positive or negative emotions can be cause for concern. A new job, the birth of a child, a divorce or a death in the family might all pose temptations to have a drink. Any situation that produces anger, depression and frustration poses a risk. Being isolated, not eating properly or losing sleep can also set the stage for a fall by producing cravings. Though relapse isn’t the end of the world, some never make it back on the road to recovery. However, loved ones must remember that while they can offer support or advice, sobriety remains the sole responsibility of the alcoholic.
A comprehensive treatment program typically provides an addict with the methods and techniques needed to change thought processes and use coping skills to overcome temptation. Alcoholics must know how to respond to triggers. They may avoid bars, former friends or individuals once associated with drinking. Learning how to deal with stress helps avoid the need to drink to get through a situation, relax or unwind. If needing help in the form of reassurance, advice or encouragement, the individual must learn to put pride aside and allow himself to ask for what he needs.
In the event a relapse occurs, the alcoholic often feels disappointed, guilty or riddled with self-doubt and pity. The person must avoid becoming overwhelmed, as many former alcoholics make mistakes and recover. However, the event may mean the relapse prevention plan simply needs modification. The alcoholic must identify the problem and create a solution.
The Importance of Encouragement and Support
Being in recovery puts the alcoholic in a vulnerable state emotionally and psychologically. The person needs ongoing love, understanding and support that friends and family members can provide. These bonds serve as effective healing tools. Sometimes loved ones fear saying or doing the wrong thing. Relationships may have suffered because of the drinking. Counseling and therapy helps those closest to the alcoholic understand the addiction and the role they play in recovery. All must take part in the healing process.
Everyone needs someone to lean on at some point during their lives. This is true for recovering alcoholics. Let them decide the type of emotional or moral support needed at different times. A reassuring hug, a humorous anecdote or a listening ear might be all that’s required in a particular moment. As self-doubt and insecurity are often problems for the addict, unconditional acceptance also goes a long way toward boosting the self-esteem of someone in recovery.
An alcoholic can only enter the road to recovery after admitting he has a problem. He must also agree that the time is now to overcome drinking. With help, he learns the disease is treatable and can live a healthier and more productive life without having to depend on alcohol. However, the alcoholic must have the motivation to want to change and realize that the process doesn’t happen overnight.