Recognizing and addressing a loved one's alcohol abuse

Posted by Jenine Koziolek LADC
December 15, 2015


I’ve always been one to root for the underdog in movies or on television. And I often find myself feeling anxious and sad when I watch movies that have people suffering. One example would be National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. It seems that everything Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswold touches goes wrong. Yet, the movie is a comedy, and many people find themselves laughing at his misfortunes.

Movies identified as comedies are intended to be a release, which the fiction allows for. But what if catastrophes like what’s depicted in the Christmas Vacation are real-life scenarios? Like “Uncle Fred” drinking too many of those eggnog and brandys or “Aunt Georgia” tipping back one too many glasses of wine. Next thing you know, the turkey is singed to pieces and the Christmas tree, once standing tall and magnificent, has been knocked over for the third time.

Alcohol, while often socially acceptable and legal for the responsible adult, can, at times, turn into a collage of disarray, leaving family members uncertain of what just happened.

So, what do you do when one glass of wine becomes the whole bottle and concerns arise? There are options.

First, recognize what may indicate that alcohol is an issue for your loved one:

  • Drinking larger quantities of alcohol, and drinking more frequently
  • Missing social and family events, or disrupting these events with obnoxious behavior
  • Continuing to use alcohol despite experiencing these problems

Once you make note of what signs are telling you this family member may be in trouble, you can take action. Here are a few tips:

  • Identify specific examples of when you have witnessed alcohol use getting out of hand and how that impacted you.
  • Talk with other family members and friends about your concerns. Ask if they’ve witnessed the same concerns.
  • Contact a substance abuse professional, mental health professional, physician, clergy or other helping professional to discuss your concerns.
  • When you’re ready to talk with your family member about your concerns, be prepared; set aside some time that works for both or all of you, make sure you let them know that you care about them and that is why you are bringing this to their attention, make the conversation a two-way street, and be careful not to lecture or badger.
  • Don’t anticipate a drastic change, and don’t push if they aren’t ready to address these concerns. Ask if you can speak again in the future about the topic.

The best gift we can give or receive this holiday season is our presence. Help your family member by recognizing when they need help and intervening appropriately.

Jenine Koziolek is a licensed alcohol and drug counselor and outreach specialist at Fountain Centers, a Mayo Clinic Health System program for substance abuse and addiction.

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