Supporting A Loved One Through Alcohol Addiction

Each Al-Anon Family Group has but one purpose: to help families of alcoholics. We do this by practicing the Twelve Steps of AA ourselves, by encouraging and understanding our alcoholic relatives, and by welcoming and giving comfort to families of alcoholics.

It can be so difficult to know your place if you have a friend or family member struggling with an alcohol addiction. You may not know what to say or how to help; you may feel like their addiction is straining your relationship; you may resent their choices. While it is true that you cannot force a person to get help for alcoholism, there are various ways you can support them and encourage them to seek treatment.

You have likely heard of Alcoholics Anonymous (or AA). In April, I wrote a post that detailed the basics of Alcoholics Anonymous. I tried to cover everything from what it is, to how it started, its main tenets, if it works, and how it applies to those who do not believe in God. I detailed the strength that comes from utilizing this specialized support group of complete strangers who understand the path of the alcoholic’s addiction.  This is a program of recovery for specifically for alcoholics; Al-Anon, however, is different. It is a program of recovery for people who are affected by someone else’s drinking, whether that be a friend or family. It is one of many resources available to support those indirectly affected by alcoholism. This post is dedicated to how you can support a loved one through alcohol addiction.

There is no one exact formula that will tell you how to support someone facing an addiction to alcohol. Every person is different and, therefore, each person’s recovery process will be unique. Some people may rely heavily on their support system and want to involve you in each step during treatment; others may be more reserved and may only come to you when they need a listening ear or want to talk. The best thing you can do for a loved one who is recovering is to motivate and support them every step of the way. Here are several specific ideas for how you can get involved and offer support:

  • Learn about his/her condition. Understanding that, over time, alcohol rewires a person’s brain and causes it to function differently, sheds light on why he/she cannot simply choose to stop drinking alcohol.
  • Know the warning signs. Some signs are recognizable while others are subtle. Several telltale signs of a potential drinking problem are irrational behavior, lack of interest in hobbies and ignoring responsibilities. (This step is particularly important for those who have not yet recognized the need for help to overcome an alcohol addiction.)
  • Offer to help research alcohol rehab programs and types of therapy. Deciding on where to go for treatment is one of the most important factors in a person’s recovery journey.
  • Attend support group meetings or counseling sessions with your loved one. This will give you insight to their journey as well as guide you in how to handle different situations. (AA meetings are generally open, which means you can attend with your loved one. These meetings offer a great deal of support and advice for living with someone who has a drinking problem.)
  • Attend Al-Anon meetings. Just as those facing alcohol addiction will attend AA meetings, you should attend Al-Anon meetings. Here you will find support as you meet others who also love someone with an alcohol addiction, and will be able to personally work through the 12 steps of Al-Anon. Visit this website to find a meeting near you.
  • Help with the post-rehab recovery plan. Be constant as your loved one navigates life as a recovering addict.
  • Be optimistic. Addiction recovery is a steady uphill battle that will come with victories and defeats. When setbacks come, try not to be critical and face the future with hope. When progress occurs, celebrate it and continue pushing forward.

Family and friends should understand that the recovery process can come with many ups and downs–for both parties. When things get difficult, remember that having a steady support system will make a profound difference for your loved one. Your support will surely influence whether or not he/she seeks help for their drinking problem, will buoy him/her through treatment, and will increase the likelihood that he/she will maintain sobriety after treatment. Your role is crucial!

More than 15 million people struggle with an alcohol use disorder in the United States, but less than eight percent of those receive treatment.  Alcoholics Anonymous is a free resource available to all that will offer tools to both the individual facing the addiction, as well as his/her loved ones. Alcoholism affects everyone, including family members and friends of the alcoholic. This can damage relationships and cause you to feel a wide range of emotions like disappointment, anger, doubt and denial. Although your primary goal is likely to get your loved one help, be sure to get the help you might also need. In many instances, speaking with a counselor is helpful and even necessary. If you feel you could use professional help, I invite you to contact me today or schedule a session. Whether you are the one facing the addiction, or the one offering support, I am here to help you every step of the way!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Resources:

Alcohol Anonymous: Strength in Numbers

Alcoholics Anonymous

“When I stopped living in the problem and began living in the answer, the problem went away.”

~ Alcoholics Anonymous

According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 86.4 percent of people ages 18 or older reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime. While it may not lead to an addiction for some, it does for others. Alcohol has touched all of our lives in one way or another, whether it is personally or through someone we care about. Because April is Alcohol Awareness month, I want to dedicate a post to one of the most helpful, renowned support groups for those working to overcome an addiction to alcohol: Alcoholics Anonymous.

WHAT IS ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS (AA)?

Alcoholics Anonymous is an international group of men and women who have had or are working to conquer a drinking problem. AA is open to all races, politically neutral, self-supporting, and is available almost everywhere. There are no age or education requirements, and membership is open to anyone who wants to do something about his or her drinking problem.

HOW DID AA START?

Alcoholics Anonymous was founded by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, who were both recovering alcoholics. In 1935, Alcoholics Anonymous began as a community-based fellowship which encouraged sobriety for other recovering alcoholics. These two men developed the 12 steps to aid their attendees, and later introduced the 12 traditions to help further define the group’s purpose and achieve continuity for AA groups across the country (and later around the globe). AA paved the way for other support groups; today Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and Overeaters Anonymous are just three of the many groups that have modeled themselves after the AA meeting concept.

WHAT ARE THE MAIN TENETS OF AA?

The original steps are still intact and many former addicts credit the group with helping them through recovery. The 12 steps that govern all AA group meetings are presented in linear fashion, but participants see them as an ongoing circle. The following steps may be revisited until the recovering addict is comfortable in that stage of their recovery process:

  1. Admit powerless over alcohol
  2. Accept that a higher power, in whatever form, will restore your sanity
  3. Make a decision to turn your will and life over to a higher power
  4. Take a moral inventory of yourself
  5. Admit to a higher power, another human, and yourself the nature of your wrongdoings
  6. Accept that a higher power will remove your character defects
  7. Humbly request the higher power remove your shortcomings
  8. List people you hurt during your addiction and be willing to make amends
  9. Make amends to those people unless it would harm them
  10. Continue to take a personal inventory, and when you’re wrong, admit it
  11. Use prayer and meditation to connect with the higher power
  12. Carry the message of AA to other alcoholics and continue to practice the principles of the 12 steps in your daily life

DOES AA WORK?

Because AA is anonymous, some members of the group do not participate in studies since it could breach anonymity. Many want their participation in AA to remain unidentified, in line with the group’s original intention. Additionally, participants might not want to admit to relapse. A New York Times article stated that AA claims that up to 75% of its members stay abstinent.  Alcoholics Anonymous’ Big Book touts about a 50% success rate, stating that another 25% remain sober after some relapses. Though it is difficult to know just how effective it is, it is safe to say that many people have been helped by regularly attending AA. Just how effective depends on the participant.

CAN AA WORK FOR THOSE WHO DON’T BELIEVE IN GOD?

The first time I read through the twelve steps, I was surprised how often God was referred to. While the faith-based program of AA may be effective for some, it does not work for everyone — particularly those who do not subscribe to God as a higher power.  Might I offer a solution: AA founder, Bill Wilson, encountered the term “higher power” in the book, Varieties of Religious Experience, by William James. In this book, James offers many examples from Christian traditions, as well as non-Christian examples. One of the best examples of “higher and friendly power” is borrowed from Henry David Thoreau walking in the midst at Walden Pond feeling a sense of connection to pine needles. He cited other examples of a “higher power” to potentially include moral principles, patriotism, civic engagement, and even a higher or better self. Therefore, the term “higher power” does not have to be a faith-based term and thus varies from participant to participant.

You could go to an AA meeting in Los Angeles, London or Lima and each one would be carried out in a similar fashion. This is because the steps and traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous are the foundation for every meeting. In each meeting, members will get to know one another, discuss progress and relapses, and support each other through sponsor programs. Although it can be difficult going to an AA meeting with complete strangers and admitting to such a personal issue, it is the only place where every participant knows exactly how you feel. They have been where you are and can support you in your journey. That is powerful. To quote AA literature: “The feeling of having shared in a common peril is one element in the powerful cement which binds us.”  This instantaneous bond cultivates a unique feeling of community and understanding that is incredibly helpful to those recovering from alcohol addiction.

The only real way to find out if Alcoholics Anonymous can help you is to give it a try. See for yourself if you think the help and support from others struggling with the same problem can help you stay sober. As Alcoholics Anonymous has no dues or fees, you have nothing to lose in choosing to visit a few meetings. I strongly encourage it. Call now at 877-600-9205 or go online and use a meeting finder to find a meeting in your area. Click here if you are local to the Dallas/Ft. Worth area and could benefit from community resources. In like manner, if you feel you could use professional help, I invite you to contact me today or schedule a session to begin your journey toward recovery. I am here to help you along the uphill road of addiction recovery!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Resources:

Strength in Numbers: Support Groups

“Regardless of the road we follow, we all head for the same destination, recovery of the [alcoholic] person. Together, we can do what none of us could accomplish alone. We can serve as a source of personal experience and be an ongoing support system for recovering alcoholics.”            -Alcoholics Anonymous

I posted an article mid-February about disclosing mental illness–when, how, where, to whom, etc. It may seem easier to deal with mental illness alone, but great strength can be found in numbers. The same is true with addiction; more often than not, disclosing addiction to trustworthy individuals can empower and motivate you to overcome your addiction. There is great power found letting other people in so they can can comfort you, support you, and keep you accountable. Your family and friends will have an important role in your recovery and healing, but this post is about the kinship and healing you can find beyond your immediate circle of support and in support groups.

You have likely heard of Alcoholics Anonymous or “A.A.” This is an international fellowship where those looking to overcome alcoholism will be encouraged and supported towards sobriety. People all across the spectrum of alcoholism take part in these A.A. meetings, and participants become friends and a support system.  Alcoholics Anonymous is one of the most well-known examples of a support group, but support groups are certainly not limited to overcoming alcoholism. In short, a support group is a gathering of people who share a common health concern/condition, an interest or a specific situation–such as breast cancer, diabetes, heart disease, addiction, or long-term caregiving.  

The general purpose of support groups is to help identify healthy and effective coping strategies, as well as skills often geared to mitigating feelings of angst, fear, pain, and loss. The groups also provide a great support network—in support groups you can find other members in similar circumstances with similar feelings with whom you can share in an open and unedited fashion. The group allows you to be where you are and validates and normalizes what you are feeling. Imagine the benefits of being surrounded by people who not only support you, but understand what you are feeling and going through!

Support groups are available worldwide. If you are in search of a particular support group, ask your doctor, or mental health provider for recommendations, or search the internet, contact local centers (community centers, libraries, churches, etc.), or ask someone you know in a similar situation for their suggestions. In addition, there are many options online including chat rooms, email lists, newsgroups, FaceBook groups, blogs, or social networking sites. Help is out there!

On the other hand, group therapy is a more formal type of mental health treatment that brings together several people with similar conditions under the guidance of a trained mental health provider. Its focus is more educational, therapeutic, and process-oriented. It provides a forum for change and growth, and there is often a theme presented for the entire group, with specific outcomes anticipated.  Support groups are less structured, with no set curriculum, and the facilitator can be a lay person or anyone who has an interest in the subject (instead, many themes may enter a discussion by a fluid group of members, and the facilitator guiding from the side). The following are a few of the key differences between support groups and group therapy:

  • Openness. Oftentimes, support groups are very open, meaning individuals can come and go as they please. If participants are unable to make it, the group carries on as normal. With a therapy group, participant’s attendance is crucial to the benefit of the whole.
  • Size.  Therapy groups range from four or six to ten individuals. Support groups can be communal, allowing more participants.
  • Facilitator’s role. Therapy groups function because of the therapist at the helm, directly leading and educating the group. In support groups, however, the facilitator, who is typically a selected participant, guides from the side, allowing participants to make comments and build off of one another. In both cases, facilitators objective is to create a safe learning space for all participants.

Each type of group offers a unique dynamic and the key is finding a group that meets your specific needs and association. Not everyone will find it helpful to participate in the more intense, focused, therapy-based experience of group therapy; however, nearly everyone can benefit from a support group. Support groups are readily available and are often free. Benefits from participating in both a support group as well as group therapy include feeling less lonely, isolated or judged; gaining a sense of empowerment and control; improving coping skills; talking openly and honestly about your feelings; reducing distress, depression, anxiety or fatigue; developing a clearer understanding of what to expect with your situation; getting practical advice or information about treatment options; and comparing notes about resources, such as doctors and alternative options.

Support groups and group therapy have an important place in healing and recovery–be it from addiction or from mental illness. Depending on the situation, it may be beneficial to see a therapist one-on-one, in addition to attending groups. In some cases, medication is also necessary. If you would like more information, please contact me today. I am more than happy to schedule a session with you or your loved one and help create a plan for healing. When looking for resources to address addiction or mental health issues, do not forget about the strength of numbers you can find by participating in support groups and/or group therapy!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Resources:

Creating Conversation Around Your Mental Illness

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in 5 American adults experiences mental illness in a given year. That is 43.8 million people! You are not alone in this arduous struggle. Even though so many face this trial, there is often a great amount of shame that comes with mental illness that may inhibit you from telling people. This post will focus on how you can let others in.

Imagine if you had Ulcerative Colitis (an inflammatory disease of the digestive tract) and you told your family and friends about it. Your parents and friends would likely have many questions, would want to learn more about the disease itself, and discuss how they could help you. You would probably feel slight to no discomfort disclosing your medical condition and would welcome their help and support.

A mental illness is just as important and serious as a physical injury. Chemical imbalances that cause depression, bipolar, or obsessive compulsive disorder, are out of our control. Whereas we feel little discomfort sharing about a physical illness or injury, we often feel much discomfort and some shame around sharing our struggles with mental illness and thus remain silent. Last year, I wrote a blog post about taking the stigma out of mental illness and I stand by it. We have got to change the way we perceive and discuss mental illness! My purpose in this post is to give you a tangible first step to take. Instead of keeping it to yourself, reach out to your closest friends and family members. Not sure how to do that? Read on.

WHEN?

  • When you have a specific need. Maybe your friends have noticed your behavior being off. Maybe you need transportation to an appointment. Maybe you need your employer to be aware of your situation to receive accommodations at work. Maybe you need someone to be accountable to. Maybe you simply just need someone to talk to. Whatever the reason, it could be a trigger to help you summon the courage to be vulnerable and share your situation. It will make things easier for you in the long run.
  • When you choose. Disclosing something so personal needs to be done on your own time. Do not feel pressured or guilted by anyone (including yourself) to let people know on their timeline...do it for you, on your time.

HOW?

  • Set expectations. Prepare your listeners by informing them that you need their help and ask them to just listen. You might say something like, “There’s something going on in my life that’s been really hard. I need to talk to someone about it. Please don’t make light of it.”
  • Give a specific problem. There is no reason for you to beat around the bush. If you are having a hard time sharing your diagnosis, state how it began, or how you noticed a potential problem. “I started realizing something was off when I couldn’t sleep more than a couple hours at night. It’s been hurting my work and I feel out of control.”
  • Offer suggestions for support. People may feel unsure about how they can help you; it will be quite advantageous if you come prepared with ideas already in mind for how your support system can be there for you. You may want to request help finding a doctor or therapist (if one has not already been secured), rides to appointments/treatment, check-ins from family members, hugs from friends, listening ears from siblings, etc. Equip your people with specific ways they can assist you as you fight mental illness.

Mental illnesses are a challenge…period! Having a solid support system can help make things a little easier when things get hard. Those people you let in to your support system will comfort you when you feel alone, will be aware of what you are going through, will be able to check-in on you, and will provide a safe environment where you can honestly disclose what you are facing. Having that extra love and support will greatly aid you along the way.

Yes, letting others in about your mental illness can be daunting and scary, but all of the support, understanding, and accountability that comes with having others by your side will be worth it. I have helped many clients down this road, and the ones who take to treatment faster are those who have a support system to fall back on. If–even after reading this blog post–you are unsure about what to say or with whom to say it, please contact me today for help. It takes great courage to admit you need help, but you will reap positive dividends in the long run. Schedule a session with me today and we can take this important first step of forming your support circle together.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Resources: