How to support a loved one who may struggle with alcohol

GEHA | April 2, 2021

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Warning signs of alcoholism and ways to open a conversation about dependency.

As we pass the one-year mark of the current COVID pandemic as a country, it is important to recognize how you or loved ones may have changed during this time. Prolonged feelings of isolation, depression, anxiety or boredom can easily lead to using alcohol as a coping mechanism.

Because friends or family have often lived in much closer proximity during the past year, this closeness can also make it difficult to notice changes. Here are some warning signs to watch for:

  • Needing alcohol to function “normally”
  • Drinking alone or hiding to drink
  • Making excuses to drink
  • Unsuccessful attempts to limit or stop drinking
  • Going without drinking causes nausea, mood swings, irritability, tremors or inability to sleep
  • Showing anger when questioned about drinking

If you suspect a friend or loved one has a problem with alcohol, remember that you are not alone. Keep these thoughts in mind as you interact with your loved one:

  • Alcohol abuse is treatable. Family support can make a big difference in helping recovery.
  • Be open to a discussion of your family history of substance abuse, if relevant. This may help your loved one feel less alone.
  • Show compassion and be patient as you help in the search for resources and treatment.
  • Take care of yourself. The process can be stressful and emotionally draining. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association has many good resources for families coping with substance abuse disorders.

Don’t be afraid to talk with your loved one. Express concern and assure them you want to help. Here are some ways to start the conversation in a loving, judgment-free environment:

  • Have the conversation in a private place with few distractions, such as on a walk or secluded porch or park bench.
  • Be direct and express concern. Describe why you are concerned and ask the loved one how they are doing.
  • Validate the loved one’s feelings and listen openly, without judgment.
  • Provide reassurance that alcohol abuse is treatable and offer to help find and connect with treatment services.
  • Be patient. Realize change won’t come all at once. You will probably need to reach out often with encouragement and a willingness to help and listen.

Starting this conversation can be difficult. You may want to open a dialogue with something like:

  • “I’ve been worried about you. Can we talk? If you don’t want to talk with me, is there someone else you are comfortable talking to?”
  • “I see you are going through something. How can I support you?”
  • “I care about you and am here to listen. Do you want to talk about what’s going on?”
  • “You haven’t seemed like yourself lately. How can I help?”

Getting advice from a professional and having a third-party sounding board is also often beneficial. GEHA medical plan members can share their concerns and get medical advice from a board-certified physician or behavioral therapist through MDLIVE. Your wait time is less than 10 minutes to have a secure, confidential conversation with a physician averaging 15 years of practice.


Sources:
“Warning signs of substance and alcohol use disorder.”ihs.gov, Indian Health Service, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“Helping a loved one dealing with mental and/or substance use disorders.” samhsa.org, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association.
“Supporting a loved one dealing with mental and/or substance use disorders.” samhsa.org, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association.