Next Steps for Family Members When Alcohol Misuse Impact Has Been Identified – so here we are with the third post in our series. [Previous posts in the series: Alcohol Misuse, Alcohol Misuse Impact (AMI) Assessment.]
This post shares suggestions for what you can do now that you’ve confirmed your loved one’s alcohol misuse is having an impact on your life. Unfortunately, the space in a blogpost does not allow for the detail I’m sure you’d like, but this will give you the idea and some additional resources. As you read through these suggestions, know that alcohol misuse is all that matters with regards to the impact on you – the label alcoholism or alcohol abuse matters only when it comes to treating the disease (alcoholism) and/or condition (alcohol abuse) and understanding the depth of the impacts the alcohol misuse has had on you.
Next Steps for Family Members When Alcohol Misuse Impact Has Been Identified
1. Conduct an anonymous assessment of your loved one’s drinking patterns. The two assessments I recommend are NIAAA’s Rethinking Drinking and the World Health Organization’s Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT). Completing one of these will help you ‘verify’ that what you are experiencing is in fact based on a real drinking problem. (Remember: this is not a diagnosis, and you are the one completing it, not your loved one. Nonetheless, you have been living with this and likely your assessment is spot on.)
2. Learn what you can about the disease of alcoholism. I almost hate putting this step, here, because it gets readers back to focusing on whether their loved one’s alcohol misuse is alcoholism or not. Nonetheless, understanding the disease is important. [Alcoholism is but one of the diseases of addiction. Others include illegal and prescription drug addictions, for example.]
Yes, a loved one’s early drinking is a choice, but once the brain has been hijacked by alcohol (once a person moves from abuse to addiction), a person is dealing with a chronic relapsing brain disease, and until this is understood, the loved one will make one desperate attempt after another to control their drinking (which is impossible if they have alcoholism), and the family members will get stuck in trying to make them. Read Powerless Over Alcohol.
To help you with this step, it will be important to understand Secondhand Drinking and Risk Factors for developing the disease. These Risk Factors (which are also Secondhand Drinking impacts) include genetics, early use, mental illness, social environment, childhood trauma and repeated substance abuse (misuse). Take a look at these previous posts, SPECT Scans Showing Impact of Alcohol Abuse on the Brain and How Teens Can Become Alcoholics Before Age 21.
Additionally, try to understand the characteristics (symptoms) of the disease – in other words, what makes alcoholism (aka alcohol dependence; a disease of addiction) different from alcohol abuse (aka drinking more than the brain and body can handle and thereby engaging in any number of drinking behaviors but not being addicted). These characteristics (symptoms) include: cravings, loss of control, physical dependence and tolerance. Browse the website for The Addiction Project, HBO.com/Addiction, for information.
Understanding Secondhand Drinking, your loved one’s Risk Factors and the characteristics (symptoms) of the disease of alcoholism will help you appreciate how powerful this disease really is. And, if it is alcohol abuse (vs alcoholism), it will help you appreciate that though it’s not the disease of addiction, there are chemical and structural changes in the brain that make thinking straight and acting responsibly difficult. Thus you can give up trying to make it different. You can instead focus on helping yourself.
3. Learn a bit about the new brain research – research possible in just the past 10-15 years, thanks to new brain imaging technologies. Understanding the basics of how the brain develops, how it works and that we can rewire our brains will be astoundingly freeing. It will give you the ‘ah ha’ moments that will likely change your life. This information will help you understand what happened in the brain of your loved one. More importantly, it will help you understand the ‘control’ you do have – namely changing your brain wiring by choosing to change how you react to your loved one’s drinking behaviors. Check out The Dance – Understanding the Alcoholic/Codependent Relationship.
4. Work to bolster your brain’s health – it’s infrastructure – your neural networks. This can be done through diet, exercise, sleep and mindfulness activities. For you see, there is a whole new body of brain research that’s been done in these areas as well, thanks to the new brain imaging technologies of the past 10-15 years. Taking care of your brain’s health will also give you power; a sense of control. And for us, having control of something is so important because we need to take our control focus off our loved one’s drinking (or recovery) and put it somewhere that can benefit us – our lives. Here are two links to previous posts to get you started: Exercise and the Brain: One Way to Help With Recovery and Don’t Forget the Fun in Addiction Recovery
5. And, perhaps the most difficult, try to understand what has happened to your brain’s neural networks as a result of living with alcohol misuse. This will take some time, but at it’s very basic level – you will want to learn to control that automatic reaction that’s built up over the years as a safety response to fear and anxiety / worry…
– fear that your loved one will drink or not keep his promise or not get fired or pick a fight with your brother at the family gathering or drive after drinking or…
– anxiety / worry over whether the bills will be paid or the children will be safe tonight or she won’t get in a car wreck or your son’s graduation party will go okay because your parent won’t show up drunk….
Fear and anxiety / worry reactions keep us so stuck in focusing on other people’s lives, which is what causes us to lose sight and control of our own. Here are some previous posts to get you started: About Letting Go…, So What is Codependency?, Codependents Have a “Brain Thing” Going On, Too.
As I said, this part takes time, and it may require counseling (with a therapist trained in addiction, by the way – don’t just use any therapist), participation in AlAon, a 12-step program for families affected by a loved one’s drinking, or talking with a friend who’s ‘been there, done that’ and can share their insights and help you see your situation more clearly.
All of these Next Steps and more are the subject of my next book to be published this spring, Loved One In Treatment, Now What? (And, If They’re Not in Treatment, Wishing They Were!) Additionally, I offer informational consulting services on this research and next steps to families and individuals, businesses and community organizations. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Lastly, the new brain research and help for family members with regards to changing their lives can be found in my book, If You Loved Me, You’d Stop! What You Really Need To Know When Your Loved One Drinks Too Much.
P.S. I promise future posts will not be this long!!
©2010 Lisa Frederiksen – Breaking the Cycles