Living with an Alcoholic

When you are living with someone with an alcohol problem, you have likely already experienced drastic changes in your relationship and home life. Alcoholism or alcohol use disorder (AUD) can have shattering consequences for households, and you should approach it

with care and with everyone’s safety in mind. If you are living with someone with AUD, first understand that this is not your fault. Educating yourself on the nature of the addiction will help you learn how to cope and direct this person towards help.

What is Alcohol Use Disorder?

What is Alcohol Use Disorder?

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines AUD as “a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.” It exists on a spectrum from mild to severe, although all levels of alcoholism are equally treatable.

Alcoholism is a condition thousands of years old, and it continues to be widespread. Most of us have known or currently know a person struggling with alcoholism, whether it is a partner, relative, child, or friend. Over 10% of children under the age of eighteen were living with an alcoholic parent in 2017.

It is important to understand this as a physical as well as a psychological condition. If someone you know has developed alcohol dependence, it means their brain’s biology has become altered by use. They have adapted to become dependent on ethanol for the brain to work normally.

If you are living with an alcoholic, remember that treatment for this condition is very effective, and help exists for you and your family.

Recognizing Alcoholism

Recognizing Alcoholism

We live in a culture of adult drinking, and of course, not every glass of wine is a sign of a potential problem. However, the following signs may be helpful if you believe someone’s drinking might be an alcohol addiction.

Does the person:

  • Drink alone in order to conceal their addiction?
  • Become agitated when they cannot access alcohol?
  • Lose interest or pleasure in things they previously enjoyed?
  • Experience relationship, job, or legal troubles?

They may also:

  • Drink in settings that are not socially or culturally appropriate
  • Drink solely to get drunk
  • Experience blackouts or periods of memory loss
  • Regularly plan to drink a certain amount but find themselves drinking more
  • Talk about the ill effects of alcohol on their life
  • Talk about cutting back without follow-through
  • Experience physical withdrawal symptoms

Other Risk Factors

Genetics seem to play a role in developing alcoholism, and the condition is estimated to be 60% inheritable. There are also well-known risk factors that interact with drinking habits and genes to push people towards dependency. If you are concerned that someone you live with is developing an alcohol use disorder, keep the following signs in mind:

  • Frequent binge drinking
  • Social influence, pressure from close friends or family who drink heavily
  • A history of drinking alcohol from adolescence
  • A parent or guardian’s drinking habits during their childhood
  • Mental illness
  • Experience of childhood trauma
Alcoholism in the Household

Alcoholism in the Household

Untreated alcoholism in the household can put the whole family at risk. This shows itself in several ways, such as:

  • Harm to the mental health of family members
  • Stress on household finances
  • Disruption to family dynamics
  • Physical violence

When you witness a person you care about harming their mind and body with alcohol abuse, you might find yourself searching for a reason. More often than not, we direct some level of blame at ourselves for the behavior of addicted family members. Guilt combines with depression over the situation and uncertainty about what is going to happen next.

In many cases, finances come under stress due to the added toll the addiction takes. Alcohol dependency comes with alcohol tolerance, and dependent users often buy a lot. In users who experience withdrawal symptoms, this can become a round-the-clock cycle.

AUD is associated with unpredictable behavior. You may find that your loved one is not able to fulfill their usual role in the household, leaving a heavy burden on everyone else. A formerly responsible adult becomes unreliable, forgetful, or even endangering to the family. This disrupts interpersonal dynamics and is very confusing and stressful for children.

When alcoholism leads users to verbal or physical violence, it is often felt in the household first. Your loved one may become angry, threaten, or lash out at people at home. Heavy drinking means they might not even realize they are out of control, and they might not even remember it the next day. If they cannot access alcohol during withdrawal, they also might become angry or agitated.

What Can You Do?

What Can You Do?

Set Boundaries

Their addiction is not your fault and is not something you need to manage for them. A loved one may expect you to enable them, help them buy alcohol, or help them keep their condition a secret. They may expect you to reassure and lie to them about the impact their drinking has on your lives – but you do not have to.

It might seem like it helps their suffering, but this kind of enabling does not do anything for your loved one in the long term. Treatment is possible, but real recovery requires that we accept there is a problem in the first place. You can compassionately and clearly set boundaries that communicate that you will not support their drinking.

Safety is Priority

Do not ever compromise your safety if you choose to stay in the home with your loved one. Verbal, emotional, or physical abuse is not acceptable towards you or others living with you. If there are children in the house, do not leave them in a position to be endangered by an incapacitated caregiver or intoxicated driver.

Alcohol abuse disorder can develop and fluctuate, so even if you have never felt endangered before; it is best to have a plan. Consider that you may need to extract yourself and any dependents from a situation quickly. If it comes to it, you are safer knowing who to contact and where to go.


This is the first step towards getting your loved ones the treatment they need. You need to get the timing right, but it is possible to confront them in a non-threatening way. Never attempt to confront them when they are drunk – it is potentially dangerous, and it just will not work. Instead, choose a time when they are sober. Do your research on alcohol rehabilitation programs before talking to them so you can explain the path to care. Calmly present your concerns and feelings while being as kind, non-judgmental, and clear about the problem as you can be.

Expect denial at first. Many alcoholics are aware that their drinking is not normal, but guilt and shame fog up communication about many substance use disorders. They may flat-out refuse to discuss it in the beginning, but be patient and prepared. If this is repeatedly unsuccessful or feels risky to you, consider working with an interventionist.

Contact a Treatment Center

It is a good idea to decide on a treatment center before you confront your family member or stage an intervention. Not only can we help with how to approach the conversation, but if the research is done and the bag is packed, it will be harder for them to change their mind or back out of treatment. Some centers will offer private assessments by phone to get your loved one on the path to recovery as quickly as possible.

If you would like to learn more about the alcohol addiction treatment at Cirque Lodge, take a look at our page here.

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