Has your loved one’s drinking become more excessive? Are they now drinking alcohol while working, during the morning, or to get ready to go to sleep every night? Perhaps what started as a weekly Zoom happy hour or a drink with dinner to ease their nerves during quarantine has morphed into something much bigger. Despite never having had a drinking problem before, are they now showing signs of an issue? Or perhaps your friend or loved one is in addiction recovery, living out of reach, and showing warning signs of a relapse?
Due to the isolation of the pandemic, loneliness, and anxiety that many people are feeling due to working from home, social distancing, and travel restrictions, it is more important than evere to address suspected substance abuse issues. Data shows that stress and isolation can trigger higher levels of alcohol consumption, and that since the Coronavirus outbreak, sales of alcoholic beverages have increased by 55 percent.
Regardless of the situation you find yourself in, you don’t want to see someone you love suffer, and you may be wondering how you can help your family member or friend overcome alcoholism. It is important to identify the signs of alcohol abuse and determine what steps you can take to support your loved one while also taking care of your own mental well-being.
How Common is Alcoholism?
Alcohol abuse is much more common than you may think. A 2017 study found that one in eight American adults meet the criteria for alcoholism. And even those who aren’t considered to be excessive drinkers can suffer the negative consequences of alcohol, with data showing that having more than five drinks a week over time can shorten someone’s lifespan by years. So, even having one drink every evening can cause long-term damage to one’s health.
Alcohol is all too often a key factor in deaths in the United States. The CDC reports that excessive alcohol use results in 93,000 deaths per year and plays a part in 10 percent of deaths among working-age adults. If you notice your loved one drinks daily, acts differently or erratically when they do not drink, or requires alcohol to do certain tasks at work, these may be signs of an emerging issue.
What Are the Signs of Alcoholism?
You may be unsure if your loved one is struggling with alcoholism or not, so let’s break down some ways to identify when drinking has become a problem.
When we see an “alcoholic” portrayed in popular culture, we tend to see a character who is messy, stumbling around, and slurring their words. But alcohol dependency manifests differently in each user. Alcoholics range in levels of functionality and drink for a variety of reasons. Addiction often is self-aware, and many alcoholics will try their best to cover their substance abuse. Some common signs your loved one may be hiding their drinking include:
- Facial redness
- A yellowish tint to their eyes or skin – this is a serious sign of liver damage
- Poor hygiene
- Confusion, clumsiness, and lack of hand-eye coordination
- Brittle hair and nails
- Irritability and mood swings
- Sudden weight loss or weight gain depending on the way they drink
- Dishonesty/elaborate storytelling
- Trying to mask the scent of alcohol (whether it be chewing gum or putting on excess deodorant or fragrance)
- Extended periods of time behind locked doors or in the bathroom
- Lack of social interaction
- Financial problems (i.e. asking you for cash to cover their needs)
Being aware of the signs of alcoholism is important, but be sure not to jump to conclusions. One or two signs might not signal a problem. However, it is important to follow your gut, and if you feel that something is wrong, have an open and honest conversation with your loved one.
How Long Does It Take for Someone to Become an Alcoholic?
There is not a timeline for how long it takes for someone to become addicted to alcohol. Just because your friend or family member has been drinking more for two or three months does not mean their addiction is less severe than someone who has been an alcoholic for years. They say it takes 21 days to form a habit, and some habits are very detrimental for years to come.
Some people can drink socially throughout their lives and not develop an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, while others cannot. There is no way to definitively determine who will and will not become dependent, but some factors may increase the likelihood that someone develops substance abuse problems.
Common Risk Factors of Dependence:
- Having a history of trauma
- Experiencing high levels of stress
- Struggling with a mental illness
- Experimenting with alcohol at an early age
Minors and young adults are particularly susceptible to the risks of alcohol use, as their brains and bodies are not yet fully developed. The NIH found 11 percent of alcohol is consumed by the 12 to 20-year-old demographic. This is especially troubling, as this age group is not legally allowed to drink. Moreover, alcoholism is five times more likely to manifest in those who begin drinking before they turn 14.
Alcoholism can also often be genetic, or nurtured by one’s upbringing. If you noticed many other family members have struggled with alcohol or drug use, this may play a role in your loved one’s addiction.
How Can You Help Your Loved One Recover?
If your loved one is struggling with alcoholism, you should not make them feel ashamed of their behavior. Rather, you should try to understand their condition and address it in a respectful manner. Do your best to gently address the problem and recommend they seek support. You can even offer to go to an AA meeting with them. You can also find more tips on how to help your loved one by reading about the Do’s and Don’ts for helping a loved one struggling with addiction.
For the well-being of you and your loved one, do not be afraid to give them some space. Being too involved could be interpreted as being controlling. Also, practice self-care and encourage them to take better care of themselves. The best thing you can do for your loved one after encouraging them to get help is to be there for them without enabling them. Try planning sober activities to show them that you still love them and want to spend time with them, and establish yourself as someone who is there to support them throughout their recovery.