How to Help Someone with Alcohol Use Disorder 

Dr. William Beecroft
Dr. William Beecroft

| 4 min read

Dr. William Beecroft, MD, DLFAPA, is medical director of behavioral health at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Dr. Beecroft is board-certified in general psychiatry, consultation-liaison and geriatrics specialties. He serves on the Michigan Suicide Prevention Commission.

How to Help Someone with Alcohol Use Disorder 
Talking to a loved one about their drinking isn’t easy. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a complex medical issue that has many behavioral consequences that can also affect a person’s mood. AUD is very subtle and tends to develop over a span of years. AUD is not a weakness or character issue – it is something that everyone is at risk of. Some just carry a higher risk for it than others, based on genetics and the environment they live in.

Understand the problem

Understanding AUD is a major component of successfully helping your loved one recognize the problem. A major component of AUD is the brain tricking itself into believing there is nothing wrong.  Generally, this is called denial. Being able to get through to the loved one that you are concerned for is a good first step. But recognize that this first step is nothing without reinforcement.

Do your homework

Start by learning as much as you can, perhaps by turning to Al-Anon Family Groups. This is a support program for the loved ones of a person that has AUD. Al-Anon helps you to understand how you have been a part of the afflicted individual’s life and the problem you are up against. The literature that you get at Al-Anon can be left at home to start the process of self-education of the person with AUD. Let the person with AUD know you have concerns and would like to help them to seek help. Encourage them to talk to their doctor or let their doctor know of your concern, so when your loved one does talk to their doctor, the doctor can put the conversation in context.

Plan activities

Brainstorm activities you can do with your loved one that do not involve alcohol. Also, consider finding ways to limit their easy access to alcohol, like refraining from buying it for them or having a discussion with them about keeping it in the house. You may need to assist them to develop new friends and activities.

Be supportive, but firm

Give positive feedback and kudos for cutting back or stopping drinking altogether. Having a conversation about options for treatment that can assist with abstaining from drinking can be of immense help, especially medications that stop the craving until their thinking changes. Being caring and nurturant of non-drinking behavers and neutral when they do drink will also help. “Bugging” them won’t help and may just push them further toward drinking and their drinking associates. Delicately let them know which specific drinking behaviors bother you and others, in a way that lets them know they are potentially estranging themselves from friends and social groups. Talking to them about the “empty” calories in alcohol and how they may have gained weight or not be able to lose weight as a result. Let them know what you will tolerate and what you won’t. Help them to understand that you will not cover for them in the future. Remember that these conversations are not a one-off; they need to be a significant lifestyle change for both of you.

Medication and therapy options to consider

There are many tools that can be used to assist an induvial with AUD. Medication has been significantly improved over the years and currently, there is even injectable medications once a month that help increase success six-fold over “talk treatment” only. Use of medications should not be viewed as a “crutch” or dependence on another drug. Diabetics cannot get their blood sugar under control without medications usually, so AUD is just another medical issue Therapy, Alcoholics Anonymous or other community support programs are options, as are partial hospital and intensive outpatient programs, which together or separately can be combined to make sure a path going forward is successful. Still, you should expect bumps in the road. Contingency management and a AUD advance directive are crucial tools to address those recurrences quickly and get back on track with a previously agreed upon plan developed when they are not drinking.

How Blue Cross can help

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network can help members find an in-network substance use provider and mental health professional by calling behavioral health access lines listed below: PPO: Behavioral Health Access Line | 1-800-762-2382 A free and confidential resource that’s just a call away when you need immediate support. Behavioral health professionals answer, 24/7. HMO: Behavioral Health Access Line | 1-800-482-5982 Connect with a behavioral health clinician if you need help finding a mental health or substance use provider. Behavioral health clinicians are available for routine assistance from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. For urgent concerns after hours, clinicians are also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Click here for a list of virtual resources. Related stories:
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