Suspect that someone you love has an alcohol problem? Here’s how to support them.

23 February 2021

If you think a loved one could be addicted to alcohol, you’re probably experiencing all sorts of challenging emotions. But above all, you’re likely feeling confused on how best to support them – and what steps to take.

This month, we sat down with Positive Psychology Centre practitioner, Rebecca Cheney, to discuss all things alcohol addiction and the best way to help those impacted.

But first, is it alcoholism – or just ‘social drinking’?

From BBQs and footy matches to weddings and dinner parties, alcohol is intertwined with Australia’s social culture and national identity.

That’s why it can sometimes be difficult to know if someone’s drinking has gone too far.

Put simply, unlike social drinkers, people who are alcohol-dependent need to drink to feel ‘well’ and engage in everyday life. And when they go without? They can suffer greatly, with symptoms ranging from low mood and motivation to sickness such as nausea, shaking and even seizures.

But most troubling of all, alcohol-addicted people are unable to curb their drinking – without help.

What are the early signs to look for?

Early signs of alcohol addiction can be subtle, so it’s important to know what to look out for. Because like many other diseases, early intervention is the key to avoiding long-term health consequences.

Here are some of the common signs of alcohol addiction:

  • Consuming large amounts of alcohol: This may involve periods of not drinking, followed by a binge
  • Frequently consuming alcohol: Constantly drinking throughout the day to function
  • Hiding alcohol: Common places are in their room or in their car
  • Consuming alcohol at inappropriate times: Perhaps at work or as soon as they wake up
  • Demonstrating a higher tolerance to alcohol: They may not seem intoxicated after several drinks
  • Feeling lethargic and depressed: Loss of motivation and energy
  • Becoming distant in their relationships: Isolating themselves or finding new friends who like to drink
  • Gravitating toward situations with alcohol: Or maybe they’re avoiding situations without alcohol

But remember, everyone’s experience will be different. So, while your loved one might be consuming alcohol at inappropriate times, someone else’s addiction could present as showing a higher tolerance to alcohol.

So you think they have a problem – what next?

Unsurprisingly, your first step is to talk to your loved one.

As people struggling with addiction are often unable to acknowledge they have a problem, it’s hard to know what reaction you’ll receive.

That’s why you want to be delicate, honest and non-judgemental – while avoiding blame, ridicule and accusations of selfishness.

If possible, encourage them to see their GP as a first step. Long-term alcohol abuse can damage the immune system, liver, pancreas and heart – so it’s important you know if they are in any immediate physical danger.

While at the GP, you can also enquire about a mental health plan for your loved one to see a psychologist who can make a formal assessment and discuss treatment options.

And please also be aware, that if your loved one decides to stop drinking on their own, they must do so under medical supervision – as the symptoms of withdrawal in some instances can be fatal.

But please, don’t forget about you

It can be hard to support someone with such a debilitating illness – especially if you’re doing it all on your own. Feelings of exhaustion, worry, frustration and even anger, are all normal.

So make sure you take time for yourself and continue engaging in your own life. Without looking after yourself first, you’ll find it hard to help someone else.

As a starting point, consider introducing some boundaries to protect your wellbeing. This could be nominating another loved one to be ‘on call’ on certain times or days of the week.

And of course, if things start to get too much, consider professional help for yourself too.

Urgent help is only a phone call away

If at any time you think your loved one needs urgent assistance, please call one of the following numbers:

  • DirectLine on 1800 888 236: This 24-hour service offers various treatment programs including counselling, peer support and withdrawal rehabilitation.
  • The Frankston and Mornington Drug and Alcohol Service on (03) 9784 8100: This service offers counselling, assistance with non-residential withdrawal, and care coordination for complex clients.
  • The ambulance on 000: If you or your loved one is in immediate danger.

Supporting someone through alcohol addiction can feel like an uphill battle. But help is here. For a detailed assessment and to explore treatment options, call the team at Positive Psychology Centre on 1300 995 636.