Does My Loved One Have a Problem with Alcohol?

Marcela OteroMar 23, 2017

We all have that aunt/cousin/parent/grandparent/sibling who just can’t seem to handle their liquor. If you’re lucky, then maybe your family all has exemplary relationships with alcohol. For the rest of us, however, there’s always that one family member who ruins get-togethers and holidays, humiliates us, and flies into a drunken rage at the smallest of provocations. This behavior can be painful and upsetting for everybody involved, but it’s important to understand that it didn’t happen in a vacuum. There are warning signs for alcoholism and addiction that can help you to address a loved one’s substance abuse before it gets to such a point.

First off, it’s important to understand that although alcoholism and alcohol abuse are very similar, they’re not exactly the same. Alcohol abuse is drinking too much, too often. Alcoholism, or alcohol dependence, deals with a pattern of drinking that can be dangerous and lead to the failure to fulfill responsibilities towards family and work. When still in the abuse phase, there’s a greater chance of being able to turn things around before becoming a full-fledged alcoholic.

There’s no single cause behind alcohol addiction, although studies have shown that there may be a genetic component. However, environmental factors during childhood and adolescence can be just as crucial in determining addiction. Growing up in a household with an alcoholic, being exposed to violent or abusive behaviour from a young age, and certain mental health disorders, can lead to unhealthy patterns of alcohol consumption.

It can happen to anyone. Aside from nature vs nurture arguments, even just sheer exposure to booze can provoke dependency —for women, more than seven drinks a week, and for men, more than fourteen— can signal they might be at risk. This is not to say that if your significant other enjoys a glass of wine with their dinner every day, they’ve got an unbreakable dependency. However, if you notice they seem to be unable to open a bottle without drinking the whole thing, then that should set alarm bells ringing.

What are the warning signs of alcohol abuse?

For outsiders, it can be hard to spot when social drinking becomes uncontrollable, as people will go out of their way to hide their dependency and excessive consumption. However, here are things to look out for:

  • Neglecting responsibilities - your loved one is repeatedly ignoring their home, work, or school life due to their drinking. This can include flunking classes, performing poorly at their job, not spending time with kids or continually skipping out on commitments in order to start drinking, or due to hangovers

  • Putting themselves at risk - using alcohol in potentially dangerous situations, like while operating heavy machinery and driving, or mixing alcohol with prescription drugs for a more potent high

  • Legal problems - excessive drinking can result in legal issues, such as arrests for DUI or disorderly conduct

  • Not recognizing the problem - even if the alcohol abuse is causing problems in their relationships, they continue to drink to excess, and need to drink more each time, due to developing higher tolerance levels

  • Drinking as a de-stresser - reaching for the bottle as an emotional crutch, or after each argument with your partner or workmates may be a sign of an unhealthy relationship with alcohol

  • Disinterest - a lack of enthusiasm for previously-loved activities or hobbies can indicate an out-of-control habit

  • Physical cues - there are some physical markers that can help identify chronic abusers of alcohol, but these tend to show up after prolonged periods. These include broken capillaries around the nose and face, yellow eyes and skin from inadequate liver function, sudden weight loss or gain, decrease in personal hygiene, dry skin, brittle hair and fingernails, and rapid aging in the form of wrinkles and age spots.

The difficulty with determining if your loved one is abusing alcohol can be compounded by the fact that they may not present any of the above symptoms. It can be scary and frustrating. It is usually very hard for alcoholics and alcohol abusers to admit they even have a problem, but addressing them in a non-judgmental way, as well as being open and supportive of them getting help, can make a huge difference.

Essentially, alcohol abuse is never just about alcohol, but about a host of other issues, for which a full spectrum of rehabilitation and therapy services are best. Ostensibly, this begins with medical detox when needed, and is followed by treatment of the underlying psychological aspects of dependency. The first and most important step, however, is admitting to the existence of a problem. Once that hurdle has been cleared, then you can evaluate the programs from our list of top 10 rehab centers of the year.